LUBBOCK, Texas (KXAN) — On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the reopening of Texas businesses after nearly a year of various shutdowns and restrictions to quell the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s time to reopen Texas 100%,” Abbott said. “Everybody who wants to work should have that opportunity. Every business that wants to be open, should be open.”
Abbott announced a new executive order effective next Wednesday that will allow any business to open at 100% capacity if they choose to. Saying that statewide mandates are “no longer necessary,” he also announced the end of the mandatory mask mandate effective March 10.
Abbott spoke to small business and community leaders of the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce at Montelongo’s Mexican Restaurant, where he pointed to declining numbers and increased vaccinations as a reason to get “back to normalcy.”
The governor broke down several numbers on vaccinations, saying more than 5.7 million vaccine shots have been administered in Texas — in addition to the state reportedly setting a record on Tuesday for giving more than 216,000 shots in one day alone.
Last week in Corpus Christi, Abbott said statewide orders including the mask mandate in place since July could be removed “very soon.”
According to the Texas DSHS COVID-19 dashboard, there have been nearly 2.3 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 42,995 deaths. There are currently 156,989 active cases.
Abbott explained under the new order, a county judge may impose certain mitigation ordinances if COVID-19 hospitalizations in any of the 22 hospital regions of Texas rise above 15% of bed capacity for seven straight days. But even if countywide recommendations are enacted, Abbott said residents will not be able to be jailed for refusing to follow county judge recommendations.
Moreover, even if hospital beds do rise above capacity for a week, businesses will still be able to operate at 50% capacity minimum.
Texas Restaurant Association CEO Emily Knight Williams applauded the announcement.
“For the thousands of local restaurants on the brink of closure and 167,000 Texans that remain unemployed in our industry alone, Governor Abbott’s announcement today is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel,” she said.
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said Democrats are concerned the mandate comes much too soon and could lead to another spike in late spring.
“If you listen to the national experts, Dr. Fauci has said that even when people are vaccinated, they should continue to mask up,” Hinojosa said, pointing to vaccinated people still being able to transmit COVID-19.
Doctors warn abandoning practiced precautions too quickly would be a mistake.
“Although we’ve had this remarkable improvement over the last one to two months now with the number of COVID cases, we also want to be careful not to lose that,” Dr. Mark Sigler with Texas Tech Physicians said.
Sigler is part of the Regeneron trial taking place at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Amarillo in partnership with PharmTex Research. It recently moved into its next phase after the Independent Data Monitoring Committee said the antibody treatment has proven enough efficacy in preventing severe disease.
“We’ve been able to develop a treatment that helps patients that have not required hospitalization, that helps them to both survive their infection, but also to not require hospitalization,” Sigler said.
The IDMC said the treatment also effectively neutralizes emerging variants of the virus, which are becoming increasingly common.
Still, Sigler urges Texans to continue personal responsibility, as does Abbott.
“Today’s announcement does not abandon the safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year. Instead, as a reminder that each person has their own role to play in their own personal safety, as well as in the safety of others.” Abbott said.
Ahead of the announcement, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott opined it was much too early for such sweeping moves, saying the mask mandate should remain in place until at least the end of April.
Allen West, chair of the Republican Party of Texas, said he’s “glad Governor Abbott is following the example” of the governors of Florida and South Dakota and “opening up Texas. We pray that our small businesses will be able to recover.”
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa reacted to the news, saying in part: “What Abbott is doing is extraordinarily dangerous. He is the worst Governor in modern Texas history. This will kill Texans. Our country’s infectious disease specialists have warned that we should not put our guard down even as we make progress towards vaccinations. Abbott doesn’t care.”
Julián Castro: “When @GregAbbott_TX reopened Texas too soon the first time, we were averaging around 5,000 cases per day. Now, as he ignores public health once again, Texas averages 7,000 cases per day. This is a reckless decision that will cost lives.”
“We as a state should be guided by science and data, which says we should keep the mask mandate,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler stated.
The Texas Democratic Party further condemned Abbott, calling his announcement an “abdication” of his responsibilities and “leaving Texans to fend for themselves.”
Shortly after the news broke, “RIP Texas” was trending nationally on Twitter.