Gov. Greg Abbott announced an end to the statewide mask mandate and an increase in business and facility capacity to 100% effective Wednesday, March 10. Above, alongside local and state officials, Abbott provided an update on COVID-19 vaccine efforts in Texas following the tour of a mass COVID-19 vaccination site inside Esports Stadium Arlington & Expo Center in Arlington, Texas, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP
Gov. Abbott announces end to mask mandate, Hays County leaders skeptical of move
Gov. Greg Abbott proclaimed Tuesday, “It is now time to open Texas 100%,” announcing an end to the state’s mask mandate and the full reopening of businesses.
Abbott’s newest executive order, which goes into effect Wednesday, March 10, lifts Texas’ mask mandate and allows businesses and facilities across the state to open to 100% capacity.
“Everybody who wants to work should have that opportunity,” Abbott said during a press conference in Lubbock. “Every business that wants to be open should be open.”
Abbott cited the availability of vaccines and therapeutic drugs to combat the virus as reasoning behind his newest executive order.
“Texas is far better positioned now than when I issued my last executive order back in October, and we are in a completely different position than when I issued my first executive order last March,” Abbott said, adding that Texas has an abundance of personal protective equipment and COVID-19 tests. “When COVID first ravaged our communities there were no medicines to treat it, but now we have antibody therapeutic drugs who treat COVID and keep people out of hospitals.
“Now in Texas, and across the country, we now have the vaccines. Vaccines to protect Texans from COVID,” Abbott added. “Now more than 7 million vaccine shots have already been given to Texans … By next Wednesday over half of our seniors will have received a vaccine shot, and by the end of this month every senior who wants a vaccine shot will be able to get a vaccine shot.”
However, less than 7% of Texans have been fully vaccinated as of the past weekend, according to The Texas Tribune. In Hays County, only 12,750 residents have been fully vaccinated out of an estimated 183,380 people 16 years or older, while 25,974 have received at least one dose as of Tuesday, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Health experts worry that it may be too soon to lift the mask mandate and expand business openings. Dr. Rodney E. Rohde, chair of Texas State University’s clinical laboratory science program, said we should err on the side of caution since not all senior citizens and those under 65 who are immunocompromised have been vaccinated.
“At the very least, we should continue as we are doing until we know that we have all seniors and all other immunocompromised Texans vaccinated,” Rohde said. “If this is at the end of March or a bit later as mentioned in the order, then why not wait until that time?”
During Tuesday’s press conference, Abbott stated that COVID-19 still exists but Texans have mastered daily habits that help avoid contracting the virus.
“It is clear from the recoveries, from the vaccinations, from the reduced hospitalizations, and from the safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed,” Abbott said.
But local leaders are skeptical of the governor’s move. Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra called Abbott’s newest order “premature and reckless.”
“We must continue to follow the science,” Becerra said. “This is not behind us.”
The Hays County Local Health Department has recorded 16,399 total COVID-19 cases and 221 coronavirus-related fatalities. As of Tuesday, there are currently 559 active cases.
County Emergency Coordinator Alex Villalobos stated that safe practices to prevent the virus should still be used.
“We have identified the UK variant in Hays County and multiple variants just two hours away in Harris County,” Villalobos said. “We must continue to follow (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) best practices and not allow our guard down by discontinuing the wearing of masks.”
State Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood), who represents Hays and Blanco counties, called Abbott’s move irresponsible, and said she will continue to wear a mask until health experts advise otherwise.
“We still haven't seen the impact of gatherings resulting from Winter Storm Uri and the Texas Blackout, and new, more contagious strains of COVID-19 are circulating in Texas and have been confirmed right here in House District 45,” Zwiener said. “Wearing a mask is still one of our best tools to slow the spread, and I'm disappointed that the governor is sending Texans a dangerous mixed message and taking away a powerful tool that helps businesses protect their customers and helps Texans feel safe to patronize businesses.”
At San Marcos Consolidated ISD, the district said all students and staff will continue to follow safety protocols already in place including wearing masks until further notice. The district is awaiting further guidance from the Texas Education Agency.
With Abbott’s new order businesses can continue to limit capacity and implement safety protocols. Additionally, if hospitalization rates in a service trauma region rise to or above 15% for seven consecutive days, a county judge in the region can use COVID mitigation strategies in their county. But, county judges cannot enact penalties for not following COVID protocols and people cannot be jailed for not wearing masks.
“Now, despite these changes, remember this: removing state mandates does not end personal responsibility or the importance of caring for your family members and caring for your friends and caring for others in your community. Personal vigilance to follow the safe standards is still needed to contain COVID,” Abbott said. “It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed.”