As CDC warns not to ease COVID rules, Texas' governor says he'll drop mask rule, business limits

Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a recent news conference. - Courtesy Photo / Texas Governor's Office
Courtesy Photo / Texas Governor's Office
Gov. Greg Abbott speaks at a recent news conference.
The day after the director of the Centers for Disease Control cautioned states against easing COVID-19 restrictions, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he'll drop the statewide mask mandate and lift all restrictions on businesses.

"With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus," the Republican governor said Tuesday during a press event at a Lubbock restaurant. "We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100%."

All businesses will be allowed to at full capacity by next Wednesday, and the mask mandate will be lifted, Abbott said.

During his comments, Abbott argued that Texans have battled the pandemic long enough that the state no longer needs to need to play referee. It's a frequent refrain from Abbott, who was among the first governors to lift restrictions last spring and spent months resisting a statewide mask rule.

During a White House press briefing Tuesday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky cautioned against dropping state restrictions as vaccines become more available, according to an ABC News report. The daily number of cases and deaths last week rose by an average of 2% from the prior week, she said.

"With these new statistics, 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," Walensky said. "I understand the temptation to do this — 70,000 cases a day seems good compared to where we were just a few months ago — but we cannot be resigned to 70,000 cases a day, 2,000 daily deaths."

The current numbers are better than the dismal death toll that followed winter holiday gatherings. Still, they're on par with highs reported last summer after may states — Texas included — began throttling back restrictions.

"I think it's terrible. Irresponsible," Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said of Abbott's Tuesday announcement. "We need to remember that after May 5, when he allowed all kinds of businesses to reopen, we had an outbreak through the summer."

In an emailed statement, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg urged residents to continue to wear masks despite the lifting of the mandate.

“Opening everything to 100% while simultaneously nixing our mask mandate is a huge mistake," he said. "COVID-19 is still widespread in our community and infecting too many of our vulnerable residents. You don’t cut off your parachute just as you’ve slowed your descent."

Fewer than 6.5% of Texans had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Sunday, and the state ranks near the bottom in vaccine distribution. On March 1, the state tallied 59 new deaths from the coronavirus.

“What Abbott is doing is extraordinarily dangerous. He is the worst Governor in modern Texas history," Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in an emailed statement. "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."

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