Texas Lifts Coronavirus Restrictions, Ends Mask Mandate, Despite CDC Warning

Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he is reopening Texas 100% and lifting the state mask mandate, as is Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning of a variant-induced fourth surge.

4 minute read

March 3, 2021, 12:00 PM PST

By Irvin Dawid


michelmond / Shutterstock

It has been a year since the first death was reported in the U.S. due to COVID-19. Almost 516,000 Americans have died from the novel coronavirus since Feb. 29, 2020, but a lot has changed to give Americans hope for a brighter summer, not the least being the announcement from President Joe Biden on March 2 that there will be enough COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate every American adult by the end of May. But he added a dire warning:

But I have to be honest with you: This fight is far from over.  I told you I’d be straight up with you from the beginning. As I said many times, things may get worse again as new variants spread and as we face setbacks, like recent winter storms in the Midwest and South. But our administration will never take this public health threat lightly. 

A very different public health message was sent by two governors to their constituents on Tuesday.

"Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday it's time to 'open Texas 100%' and end the statewide mask order, citing declining hospitalizations across the state as more people are vaccinated against the coronavirus," reports Nicole Cobler for the Austin American-Statesman. The executive order takes effect on March 10.

 "To be clear, COVID has not suddenly disappeared," Abbott said, but adding "state mandates are no longer needed."

"Texas is in a far better position now than when I issued my last executive order back in October," Abbott said, referring to his edict allowing bars to reopen under certain circumstances. Cases spiked after he eased business restrictions in the fall.

The governor's announcement didn't go over well with the state's public health community.

Angela Clendenin, an epidemiologist at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, said a better time to remove restrictions would have been once all Texans have an opportunity to be vaccinated.

"We should have learned by now that rushing to reopen businesses and ease restrictions across the state, before fully tamping down the virus, will lead to more unnecessary deaths," said Bay Scoggin, public health campaigns director for TexPIRG, a public interest advocacy group.

Texas is one of nine 'red-zone' states in the U.S., according to Covid Act Now, averaging over 26 cases per 100,000 people. Cases have increased 27 percent over the last week, according to The Washington Post coronavirus tracker. The graph of daily new cases on The New York Times Texas coronavirus tracker shows that cases plummeted from January 16 to February 21, and have risen sharply since then.

"Abbott's critics also noted the announcement was coming in the wake of the winter weather crisis that left millions of Texans in the cold and the dark, exposing deep flaws in Texas' electrical grid under GOP leaders including Abbott," reports Patrick Svitek for The Texas Tribune.

"Unfortunately, Gov. [Abbott] is desperate to distract from his recent failures during the winter storm and is trying to change the subject," state Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement.

Mississippi mask mandate lifted

"Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced Tuesday that he is lifting all mask mandate restrictions in the state except for K-12 schools and indoor arenas," reports 
Patrick Magee for the Biloxi-based Sun Herald.

Reeves said he is instead signing an executive order [PDF] that will recommend, but not require, that people wear masks and follow the health department’s guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Unlike an early pandemic executive order that gave him national notoriety, the "new order will not keep local or county authorities from adopting rules that are stricter than those contained in his order," adds Magee.

Mississippi is not in the red-zone like Texas. Daily new cases are averaging 20 per 100,000 people, the same as the national average. However, The Washington Post tracker shows that it recorded a 63% increase in daily new cases in the past week, the highest in the country. The New York Times Mississippi tracker shows that cases began dropping in the second week of January, reaching their nadir on Feb. 24, and have risen since then.

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