‘This will kill Texans’: State officials blast Gov. Greg Abbott for lifting COVID mask mandate

greg abbott texas mask mandate
Photo via Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Gov, Greg Abbott (R-Texas) chose Texas Independence Day, March 2, to announce the end of the state’s mask mandate and a push to allow businesses to operate at 100% capacity. But many were immediately quick to criticize the move to end the Texas mask mandate, calling it irresponsible and expressing concern the move will reverse the state’s improving COVID-19 numbers. 

Abbott announced his order to a mostly maskless audience of Lubbock Chamber of Commerce members. Abbott, himself maskless for the announcement, went to Twitter afterward to declare, “I just announced Texas is OPEN 100%,” adding “EVERYTHING” in all-caps for emphasis. 

In a more staid version of the announcement on the governor’s official site, he provided justification for the move, to take effect March 10. 

“With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs,” the statement explained, “Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus.”

“We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100%,” it continued. “Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed. Today’s announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year. Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others. With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny.”

The report went on to say that “nearly 5.7 million vaccine shots have been administered to Texans, and the state is now administering almost 1 million shots each week. By next Wednesday, about 7 million shots will have been administered in Texas and over half of seniors in Texas will have received a vaccine shot. By the end of March, every senior who wants a vaccine should be able to get one. The vaccine supply continues to increase so rapidly that more and more Texans will soon be eligible to receive a vaccine.” 

But that’s not as impressive as it may appear on its face; Newsweek noted that “Texas ranks 48th among the states based on the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered per 100,000 people.” Many who want even the first dose of a two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccine can’t yet get one. Others who have received the first dose haven’t been able to schedule a second dose despite being due for one. 

The Biden administration has warned states not to relax restrictions too soon, the New York Times reported, despite the recent decline in cases. More and more states other than Texas have recently begun to lift their mask mandates anyway, including Montana and Iowa. “We stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a White House virus briefing on March 1.

But, as NBC News reported, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves joined his Texan counterpart just hours after the Lubbock announcement with his own announcement, lifting the mask mandate as of March 3. “Our hospitalizations and case numbers have plummeted, and the vaccine is being rapidly distributed,” Reeves tweeted in conjunction with the more formal announcement. “It is time!”

“I’m very disappointed, it’s an irresponsible action. We still have 464 people in the hospital and 199 in ICU as of yesterday,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff in a Texas Tribune article covering the announcement. “We’re still not out of the woods. And I think it’s very premature to do this.”

That article observed that “officials lambasted the latest order because it does not allow local leaders to enforce their own mask mandates. The latest order also removes a previous option available to local leaders: Compel businesses to require that customers wear face masks.” 

“With the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, we’re inching closer to the finish line of this pandemic—now is not the time to reverse the gains we’ve worked so hard to achieve,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the executive who oversees key government responsibilities, including emergency response, for Houston. 

“At best, today’s decision is wishful thinking. At worst, it is a cynical attempt to distract Texans from the failures of state oversight of our power grid,” she added, referring to February’s winter storm debacle that left millions of Texans without power in sub-freezing temperatures. 

Democratic state party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa added a partisan response blasting the Republican governor, asserting, “What Abbott is doing is extraordinarily dangerous. 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.”

Sources: Texas Governor’s Office, NBC News, Newsweek, New York Times, Texas Tribune

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