Texas governor lifts state’s mask mandate, business restrictions

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued the most sweeping rollback of coronavirus restrictions of any U.S. state on Tuesday, saying that most businesses may open at full capacity next week and lifting the mask mandate.

The executive order comes as many U.S. states and major cities seeing a sharp decline in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations begin to ease the unprecedented lockdowns put in place a year ago.

“It is now time to open Texas 100%,” Abbott, a first-term Republican, told a news conference. He said the order would take full effect on March 10.

Abbott’s executive order lifts all mask requirements statewide and forbids any local jurisdiction from penalizing residents for not wearing a face covering. It removes all restrictions on businesses in counties without a high number of hospitalizations.

The executive order comes as Abbott’s administration recovers from the fallout of a deep freeze across the region last month, which triggered power blackouts that left millions shivering in the dark as frigid temperatures caught the state’s grid operator and utilities ill-prepared for skyrocketing power demand.

Abbott said that in counties where hospitalizations remain high, local officials could still apply some limits to businesses but could not mandate that they operate at less than 50% capacity.


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The governor said he was able to lift the restrictions because Texas, the third most-populous U.S. state, had administered nearly 5.7 million vaccine shots to its 29 million residents.

According to Abbott’s office, by the end of March every senior who wants a vaccine would be able to get one.

Asked about Texas’ move, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden has made it clear coronavirus restrictions are still necessary. “We need to remain vigilant. We are still at war with the virus, the president of course will continue to convey that publicly, and also privately in his conversations,” Psaki said at a White House news briefing.

One doctor in Texas was critical of the move. “It’s frustrating, to be honest,” said Owais Durrani, a resident physician at University Hospital in San Antonio. Durrani, who has been treating COVID-19 patients since the start of the pandemic in his emergency unit, said he expected the executive order to “embolden” anti-maskers and lead to a rise in cases.


More than 51 million Americans, or 15% of the total population, have been given at least one vaccine dose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The move in Texas comes as COVID-19 infections have plummeted in recent weeks across much of the world, including the United States.

According to a Reuters tally roughly 68,240 new cases have been reported on average each day this week, or 27% of the peak daily average reported on Jan. 7. The United States has recorded 28,681,793 infections and 513,721 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.


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See graphic: https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/USA-TRENDS/dgkvlgkrkpb/

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that effective immediately, bars, restaurants and other businesses can increase indoor capacity to 50% and remain open until 1 a.m.

“We have made incredible progress in recent weeks and months, and I thank our business community for their ongoing commitment to saving lives,” Lightfoot said in a written statement.

As of Monday, 35 U.S. states, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, mandate that residents wear face masks in public. Iowa, Mississippi, Montana and North Dakota have lifted mask orders imposed last year.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington and Gabriella Borter in New York Editing by Leslie Adler and Matthew Lewis)

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