Texas and Mississippi's Republican governors announced Tuesday that they’re lifting their COVID-19 mask mandates that were imposed last summer, but only lightly enforced.
In the coming days, the states will also allow their businesses to reopen at full capacity, despite warnings from health experts that the coronavirus outbreak is far from over.
Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement makes Texas the largest state to do away with a face covering order. The new rule takes effect next Wednesday, March 10.
Abbott also said that businesses in the state will be able to open at 100% capacity starting next Wednesday.
“It is now time to open Texas 100%,” said Abbott during a press conference in Lubbock. “Everybody who wants to work should have that opportunity. Every business that wants to be open should be open.”
Abbott touted the progress that the state has made in the fight against the coronavirus, including its lowering positivity rate, before claiming that state mandates are no longer needed.
“Now, despite these changes, remember this – removing state mandates does not end personal responsibility or the importance of caring for your family members or caring for your friends, and caring for others in your community,” said the governor. “Personal vigilance to follow the state standards is still needed to contain COVID. It’s just that now, state mandates are no longer needed.”
Texas has seen a sharp plunge in cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks. More than 42,000 people have died from the virus in the state, trailing only California and New York.
Abbott said his executive order has some safeguards in place if hospitalizations begin to rise again in parts of Texas.
“If COVID hospitalizations in any of the 22 hospital regions in Texas rise above 15% of the hospital bed capacity in that region for seven straight days, then a county judge in that region may use COVID mitigation strategies in their county,” said Abbott. “However, under no circumstance, can a county judge put anybody in jail for not following COVID orders and no penalties can be imposed for failing to wear a face mask. And also, if restrictions are imposed at the county level, all entities must be allowed to operate at at least a 50% capacity.”
Gov. Tate Reeves said on Twitter that the state will lift all county mask mandates and businesses will be able to operate at full capacity without any state-imposed rules starting on Wednesday, March 2.
“Our hospitalizations and case numbers have plummeted, and the vaccine is being rapidly distributed. It is time!”
Reeves said his state is now putting its focus on rapid vaccine distribution.
Executive orders that interfered with peoples’ lives were the worst, but the only possible, intervention for much of the last year. Now, we are putting our focus towards rapid vaccine distribution. We are getting out of the business of telling people what they can and cannot do.
— Tate Reeves (@tatereeves) March 2, 2021
Editor's note: This story incorrectly said Alabama was lifting its mask mandate instead of Mississippi. This error has now been corrected.