Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that all businesses will be able to open 100% Wednesday, March 10 and ended the statewide mask mandate with a new executive order.
The move will rescind “most” of Abbott’s earlier executive orders with occupancy restrictions on businesses throughout March to October, along with the governor’s July 2, 2020, mask mandate requiring all Texans to wear a face covering in public spaces.
Abbott’s announcement came on Texas Independence Day when 59 delegates declared independence from Mexico and created the Republic of Texas.
At a press conference with small business and community leaders from the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce, Abbott noted the importance of small businesses and the impacts many have faced amid COVID-19 to highlight why he was reopening the state completely.
“Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills,” Abbott said. “This must end. It is now time to open Texas 100%. Everybody who wants to work should have that opportunity. Every business that wants to be open should be open.”
It is important to note that most Texas businesses have been required to keep their occupancy at 75% of normal amounts. Only those in areas where COVID-19 patients make up over 15% of hospital bed capacity have been required to reduce their occupancies to 50%.
And though he’s lifting COVID-19 restrictions, Abbott urged Texans to keep in mind that COVID-19 has not “suddenly disappeared.”
“COVID still exists in Texas and the United States and across the globe, but 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 what does Abbott’s new executive order mean, and why is it being done right now?
What Does Reopening Mean?
Abbott made it clear that reopening the state and ending the mask mandate “does not end personal responsibility” for protecting oneself and others from contracting COVID-19.
“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.”
But he also made it clear that individuals and businesses have the right to act and operate how they want without interference from the state government — whether that be reopening, not reopening, wearing a mask or not wearing a mask.
“For example, if businesses want to limit capacity or implement additional safety protocols, they have the right to do so,” Abbott said. “It is their business, and they get to choose to operate their business the way they want to. At this time, however, people and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate.”
Abbott said many local officials are concerned that, without statewide mandates, COVID-19 will worsen in their communities. Because of that, he is giving county judges room in his executive order to reinstate COVID-19 mitigation strategies in their county if COVID-19 “hospitalizations in any of the 22 hospital regions in Texas rise above 15% of the hospital bed capacity” for seven days straight.
However, the governor said that “under no circumstance” can a county judge put anyone in jail for not following COVID-19 restrictions or impose penalties if someone does not choose to wear a face mask.
Along with that, Abbott said, if a county judge meets the requirement to impose COVID-19 restrictions in their county, all entities must still be able to operate at least at 50% of their capacity.
“Today’s announcement does not abandon the safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year,” Abbott said. “Instead as a reminder, that each person has their own role to play in their own personal safety, as well as in the safety of others. It’s a reminder that individual safety is managed every day as a matter of personal responsibility, rather than by government mandate. Individual responsibility is a corollary to individual freedom.”
Why Reopen Now?
Abbott gave numerous reasons for his decision to end the mask mandate and reopen businesses at full capacity such as more COVID-19 testing, new treatments, increased vaccine supply, low case-positivity rates and better personal habits.
According to the governor, the number of active COVID-19 cases in Texas is the lowest it has been since November and “less than half of what it was just a month ago.” He said this means there are more Texans recovering from COVID-19 than there are catching it. In addition, Abbott said Tuesday showed the lowest positivity rate — under 9% — the state has had in four months and that the positivity rate has been under 10% for days.
“Last March, most Texans had no clue about the precautions needed to avoid COVID,” Abbott said. “Now, Texans have mastered the daily habits to avoid getting COVID.”
One of the most crucial reasons for his decision is the influx of vaccines into Texas. The governor said over 5.7 million vaccines have been administered to Texans, about one million are given per week and 216,000 were administered on Tuesday alone — a record number for the state.
He said that by the time his executive order goes into effect next Wednesday, 7 million vaccines will have been given to Texans, and over half of Texas senior citizens will have received a vaccine. To help get more seniors the vaccine, Abbott said he created a program called “Save Our Seniors” and deployed over 1,100 national guard members to help local organizations administer it to seniors.
On top of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine supplies, Texas also began administering Johnson & Johnson’s newly authorized, single-shot vaccine Tuesday. Because “vaccine supply is increasing so rapidly,” Abbott said the state will soon expand the categories of those allowed to get them.
As it stands now, to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, one must meet the requirements of the Texas Department of State Health Services’ Phase 1A, health care workers and residents in long-term care facilities, or Phase 1B, those over 65 and 16 or older with chronic medical conditions, categories.
“Some medical professionals say that, within a few months, every Texan who wants a vaccine shot will be able to get a vaccine shot,” Abbott said.