Texas is fully reopening and the statewide mask mandate will be rescinded this week, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Tuesday.
"Effective next Wednesday, all businesses of any type are allowed to open 100%," the governor said at a news conference announcing an end to restrictions imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19. Abbott said declining hospitalization rates across the state and increased distribution of virus vaccines were reasons to end the coronavirus restrictions.
@PatrickSvitek @GovAbbott Here is Gov. Abbott's announcement to open Texas and end the mask mandate https://t.co/3RyGdMVXvD— The Recount (@The Recount) 1614715696.0
"Texas is in a far better position now than when I issued my last executive order back in October," Abbott explained.
He indicated that if a private business still wishes to limit its capacity or enforce other virus safety precautions, the business would be free to do so without a government mandate.
"It is their business, and they get to choose to operate their business the way they want to," Abbott said. "At this time, however, people and businesses don't need the state telling them how to operate."
NEW: Issuing an executive order to lift the mask mandate and open Texas to 100 percent. https://t.co/P4UywmWeuN— Gov. Greg Abbott (@Gov. Greg Abbott) 1614715821.0
Earlier Tuesday, Abbott reported a new record number of 216,000 Texans were vaccinated against COVID-19 in a single day, noting that Texas is now distributing more than 1 million vaccine doses per week.
"This is a big reason why hospitalizations are at the lowest level in four months," the governor tweeted.
Today Texas will report a new one day record for the number of people receiving vaccines—more than 216,000. We are… https://t.co/yZ7PhvCecj— Greg Abbott (@Greg Abbott) 1614702993.0
Under Abbott's previous executive orders, Texas businesses were required to keep their occupancy at or below 75%. In areas where 15% of available hospital bed occupancy were taken up by coronavirus patients, legal max occupancy was reduced to 50%.
The new executive order will permit businesses to open at 100% occupancy, though it gives local officials in areas where COVID-19 cases are high the ability to implement "COVID mitigation strategies" at the local level.
"If COVID hospitalizations in any of the 22 hospital regions in TX rise above 15% of the hospital bed capacity in that region for 7 straight days, then a county judge in that region may use COVID mitigation strategies in their county," Abbott said.
"However, under no circumstance can a county judge put anybody in jail for not following COVID orders," he added. "And no penalties can be imposed for failing to wear a mask."
As Texas moves to reopen, federal health officials are warning states that it is still too early to lift coronavirus restrictions as new variants of the contagious disease are not fully understood by health experts.
"Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained," U.S. Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Monday. "I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from Covid-19."
According to the Austin American-Statesman, more than 3.5 million Texans have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, amounting to about 12.7% of the state's total population. Nearly 1.9 million people are fully vaccinated.
State Democrats are begging the governor to keep the statewide mask mandate in place.
"To prevent additional struggles and suffering, we need consistency and clarity, not carelessness and confusion," said state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond in a letter addressed to Abbott. "If we all do our part to wear face coverings, we can ultimately get back to business and realize a return to normalcy."
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) applauded the governor's decision.
"With greater access to vaccinations, better treatment options, and decreasing hospitalizations rates, the Texas approach empower citizens to exercise personal responsibility about their health in the fight against COVID-19," Phelan said in a statement.