AUSTIN – Governor Greg Abbott stirred up a major controversy Tuesday, by issuing an Executive Order (GA-34) lifting the mask mandate in Texas and increasing capacity of all businesses and facilities in the state to 100 percent. The Governor made the announcement at Montelongo’s Mexican Restaurant in Lubbock in an address to the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce.
The announcement immediately drew criticism from County and City governments, labor unions, and public health officials that have been attempting for over a year to reduce the number of illnesses and deaths caused by the COVID-19 virus. This highly contagious virus is spread through human contact, and masks and social distancing, and “lockdowns” are the major elements in the fight against the disease.
Governor Abbott said, “With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, 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 percent. 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.”
During his remarks, the Governor discussed the incredible advancements that Texas has made that allow the state to open fully and lift the mask mandate—noting the rapid increase of vaccines. Nearly 5.7 million vaccine shots have been administered to Texans, and the state is now administering almost one 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.
The Governor noted that Texas has a surplus of personal protective equipment and can perform over 100,000 COVID-19 tests a day. The state has invested in a variety of anti-body therapeutic drugs that have kept thousands of Texans out of hospitals. Texans have also adopted daily habits that reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure and infection. More than 2.5 million Texans who were lab confirmed for COVID-19 have recovered since the beginning of the pandemic, and experts note the total number of Texans who have recovered from COVID-19 is likely 4-5 times that amount. The number of active COVID-19 cases is the lowest since November—meaning more Texans are recovering from COVID-19 than contracting it.
This executive order rescinds most of the Governor’s earlier executive orders related to COVID19. Effective next Wednesday, all businesses of any type may open to 100% capacity. Additionally, this order ends the statewide mask mandate in Texas. Businesses may still limit capacity or implement additional safety protocols at their own discretion.
If COVID-19 hospitalizations in any of the 22 hospital regions in Texas get above 15% of the hospital bed capacity in that region for seven straight days, a County Judge in that region may use COVID-19 mitigation strategies. However, County Judges may not impose jail time for not following COVID-19 orders nor may any penalties be imposed for failing to wear a face mask. If restrictions are imposed at a County level, those restrictions may not include reducing capacity to less than 50% for any type of entity.
County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued this statement on the Governor’s announcement:
“Taking away critical public health interventions that we know are working won’t make our community safer, nor will it hasten our return to normalcy. Quite the opposite, every time public health measures have been pulled back, we’ve seen a spike in hospitalizations. If we start the climb now, we’d be starting from the highest starting point ever when it comes to our hospital population, an unacceptable and dangerous proposition. 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.
“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.”