“Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities,” Abbott told a press conference in Lubbock on Tuesday. “This must end. It is now time to open Texas 100%.”
He added, “Also, I am ending the mask mandate.”
Last March, Abbott declared the coronavirus a statewide disaster and later introduced restrictions that shuttered bars, restaurants and schools. But the statewide mask mandate was not implemented until July, after the state had already started its reopening process.
Despite introducing the mask requirement, Abbott also blocked local officials from introducing penalties for those who flout the rule and go maskless.
“Texans have mastered the habits to keep from getting COVID,” the governor said Tuesday, explaining that some 7 million Texans will have been vaccinated by next Wednesday.
“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,” Abbott said.
Since the pandemic hit early last year, Texas has recorded more than 2.66 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 44,100 people have died. To date, Dallas County has documented at least 281,155 cases and 3,425 deaths.
At least 37 states nationwide require some form of face-covering owing to the ongoing pandemic, according to ABC News.
By ditching the mask mandate, Texas joins a handful of states that recently lifted such restrictions, among them North Dakota, Iowa and Montana.
Even as vaccinations pick up around the country, health officials have warned that the virus could continue to pose a threat. “I remain deeply concerned about a potential shift in the trajectory of the pandemic,” Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday.
In a statement released shortly after Tuesday’s announcement, the Texas Democratic Party blasted Abbott for his “failure to protect the public” from the virus.
“What Abbott is doing is extraordinarily dangerous,” Gilbert Hinojosa, the party’s spokesperson, said in the statement. “He is the worst governor in modern Texas history.
“What Abbott is doing is extraordinarily dangerous. He is the worst governor in modern Texas history." - Glibert Hinojosa, Texas Democratic Party
“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.”
In a separate statement, the Texas House Democratic Caucus accused the governor of attempting to “distract” from anger over the state’s mishandling of the winter storm that left dozens dead and millions without power for days.
“If the last year has taught us anything, it is that we need to listen to doctors and scientists more, not less,” Chris Turner, chair of the caucus, said. “Unfortunately, Governor Abbot is desperate to distract from his recent failures during the winter storm and is trying to change the subject.”
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, writing on Twitter, also criticized the governor’s decision. Jenkins said Abbott “lifted all his state orders designed to protect you and those you care about” from the coronavirus.
Jenkins told his followers, “You should focus on what doctors, facts and science say is safe; not on what Gov. [Abbott] says is legal!”
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson released a statement, as well: "The people of Dallas should continue to mask up and take precautions to slow COVID-19’s spread and mutations. We are getting closer to achieving herd immunity, and now is not the time to let down our guard. Vaccines, masks, and social distancing are the best tools we have for fighting this virus, which has claimed far too many lives in the last year.”
Moments ago, on the day 25 new deaths raise @dallascountytx death toll above 3k, @GovAbbott lifted all his state orders designed to protect you and those you care about from #COVID19. You should focus on what doctors,facts and science say is safe; not on what Gov. says is legal! pic.twitter.com/6dS5LrpNOY— Clay Jenkins (@JudgeClayJ) March 2, 2021
Meanwhile, the Texas Organizing Project lambasted the governor in a statement. “What Abbott is doing is not leadership,” Michelle Tremillo, the group’s executive director, was quoted saying in the news release.
“It’s arrogant, racist negligence that puts the needs of his wealthy corporate donors above the health of working-class Black and Latino Texans whose labor has sustained our state through this pandemic, and who in turn are more likely to fall victim to COVID-19,” Tremillo added.
But Republicans around Texas and the country celebrated Abbott’s decision. Sebastian Gorka, who briefly served as deputy assistant to former President Donald Trump, celebrated the move. “God bless Texas,” he wrote on Twitter.
U.S. Rep. Lance Gooden, a Republican who represents Texas' 5th Congressional District, also thanked Abbott. “Capacity limits on businesses are GONE and the statewide mask mandate will be REVOKED,” he tweeted. “Thank you Governor @GregAbbott_TX for following the science!”