AUSTIN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift statewide coronavirus restrictions and end the Texas mask mandate has been met with criticism from local and state leaders and organizations.
On Tuesday, Abbott announced he is rescinding statewide face mask orders and reopening all businesses starting on Wednesday, March 10.
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Abbott said any type of business is allowed to reopen 100%. Businesses, however, may still limit capacity or implement additional safety protocols at their own discretion.
"Businesses don't need the state to tell them how to operate," Abbott said.
Under the new orders, if COVID-19 hospitalizations are above 15% for seven straight days, a county judge may still use mitigation strategies in their county, such as face masks.
Following the announcement, the Texas State Teacher Association issued a statement, warning it is too soon for Texans to let our guards down.
“Like Gov. Abbott, we believe we are making progress against the COVID-19 pandemic, but we are not there yet. Far from it,” said Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina. “The COVID numbers have been coming down, but there were still 1,637 new confirmed cases of COVID in Texas yesterday and 59 deaths. More than 5,600 COVID patients were in Texas hospitals, and much is still unknown about the more-infectious variants of the deadly virus that have started striking our state.
“Gov. Abbott needs to quit obeying his political impulses and listen to the health experts, who are warning that it is too soon to let our guard down without risking potentially disastrous consequences," Molina continued. "The experts caution us to continue the safety practices that have worked against this disease, including widespread mask use and social distancing.”
Molina said Texans want to see their public schools reopened, but reopened safely, including mask use and vaccines for educators. The organization is calling on the State to prioritize teachers and school employees for vaccines.
The Texas Classroom Teachers Association issued a similar statement.
“In the absence of widespread availability of vaccines, and given the state’s refusal to prioritize school employees for vaccination, the removal of statewide health protocols is premature and will undo the progress that we have been making in getting the virus under control,” said TCTA Executive Director Jeri Stone. “We call on the TEA commissioner and school districts across the state to continue to enforce best practice recommendations from health experts and the CDC to better ensure the health and safety of their students, teachers and communities.”
The TEA said updated public health guidance will be coming this week.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who previously urged the governor not to lift restrictions too soon, said the State was ending one of the most effective safety protocols in slowing the spread of the virus.
“Wearing a face mask while in public or within closed spaces remains one of the most effective, proactive measures anyone can take to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus according to the US Center for Disease Control,” said Adler. “We as a state should be guided by science and data, which says we should keep the mask mandate. Too much is at stake to compromise the positive outcomes we have seen with over-confidence. Our priorities should continue to focus on the further opening of schools and businesses, but we must do everything we can to ensure the success of those two goals. While hospitalizations in the Austin area continue to decline, the number of vaccinations is not where it needs to be. I, along with the Mayors from Houston, Dallas and San Antonio are calling upon the governor not to create any ambiguity or uncertainty about the importance of wearing a mask by changing the rules at this time.”
Adler, along with Travis County Judge Andy Brown, sent a letter to Abbott, asking him to “not allow over-confidence to endanger our successes.”
Meanwhile, Austin City Council member Greg Casar said he believes the governor’s new orders will endanger Texans’ lives.
“Gov. Abbott continues to ignore the advice of trusted health professionals. He’s endangering Texans’ lives so that he can score political points,” said Casar. “Locally, we are working around the clock to care for the sick, we’re wearing masks, and we’re providing help to those who need it, despite the recklessness and cowardice of our governor.”
Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy blasted the decision as premature, saying it would put working people in jeopardy.
“Texas had the ball on the 30-yard line in the pandemic only to see Gov. Abbott spike the ball – again,” said Levy. “Our state’s leader just sent a strong message – not just with his words and his order but by appearing in a closed room where few people wore masks – that Texas can relax and drop key measures to stop a pandemic that has killed more than half-a-million Americans. The statewide mask mandate followed the science. Lifting the mandate does not. Working families in Texas, who have sacrificed so much to get us this far, deserve better than a governor who is about to repeat the same deadly mistake he has made before. Gov. Abbott, this isn’t a political play. It’s a matter of life and death.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick expressed his support for the new orders in a statement on Tuesday.
"The Texas economy is coming back stronger than ever and Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement today will help us restore the livelihoods of millions of Texas even faster," said Patrick. "Texas has proved what I have said throughout this long year of the pandemic – we can do two things at once – maintain our economy and fight COVID-19. Today, Texas is one step closer to a return to normalcy."
The Texas Democrats said the move to lift restrictions was made too soon, noting Texas has only vaccinated around 6.5% of its population.
“What Abbott is doing is extraordinarily dangerous,” said Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa. “He is the worst governor in modern Texas history. 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.”
Hinojosa said opening Texas will lead to unnecessary deaths.
“By removing all previous state mandates and opening the state to 100%, Gov. Abbott, who has never taken this pandemic seriously, is doing what he does best: leaving Texans to fend for themselves,” he said.
And the Travis County Medical Society also chimed in, reiterating talking points from the Texas Medical Association:
"We believe to keep our Texas patients healthy and safe, we all need to continue to follow the science to protect ourselves. We are encouraged by decreasing COVID-19 cases in Texas. We also are encouraged that we continue to vaccinate more Texans against COVID-19 – vaccination rates are increasing. We urge Texans to keep themselves and their families safe by wearing masks when needed, social distancing and washing their hands frequently."
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