- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is allowing businesses to open “100% and lifting the mask mandate.
- Texas is seeking an uptick in cases after the winter storm and has numerous hotspot counties.
- CDC Director Rochelle Walensky warned this week that states shouldn’t let their guards down.
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he is allowing all of the state’s business to open “100%” and is lifting the state’s mask mandate, effective March 10, as federal health officials warn against states relaxing restrictions too soon.
After a devastating winter storm in mid to late February artificially depressed rates of COVID-19 testing in Texas, reported cases in the state are beginning to rebound from a seven-day average of 4,412 on February 20 to 7,693 by March 1, according to The New York Times.
Texas also has more hotspot counties than any other US state, with 10 of the state’s counties reporting more than 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents on average over the last seven days.
And Houston is officially the first city in the US where scientists have confirmed the presence of all the major COVID-19 variants, the Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday.
Nationwide, a six-week decline in cases is beginning to steadily level off while hospitalizations and deaths continue to decrease.
Abbott allowing Texas to go back to business as usual without requiring masks is precisely the type of action by states that Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned states against in a Monday press briefing of the White House COVID-19 Task Force.
“These data are evidence that our recent declines appear to be stalling, stalling at over 70,000 cases a day. 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.
She added that “at this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned progress we have gained … now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”
Along with Texas, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves also announced on Tuesday that the state would fully re-open, tweeting, “Starting tomorrow, we are lifting all of our county mask mandates and businesses will be able to operate at full capacity without any state-imposed rules. Our hospitalizations and case numbers have plummeted, and the vaccine is being rapidly distributed. It is time!”
Texas’ coronavirus restrictions, and by extension, Abbott, have been at the center of a partisan tug-of-war in the state throughout the pandemic, with the conservative wing of Abbott’s party hammering him over imposing any restrictions at all and Democrats criticizing him for not going nearly far enough.
The state and Abbott’s administration also came under scrutiny recently after Texas’ independent power grid ERCOT, which was developed during the 1970s to evade federal regulations and covers most of the state, failed during the winter storm.
The problems with the power grid left millions without power or water as freezing-cold temperatures and extreme weather descended on the state. Subsequent reporting revealed that Texas’ power grid was “minutes” away from a complete meltdown.
Immediately after Abbott’s announcement on Tuesday, the Texas Democratic Party released a statement slamming the governor, who is up for reelection next in 2022.
“What Abbott is doing is extraordinarily dangerous,” Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said. “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.”
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