On the 185th anniversary of Sam Houston’s middle-finger to the nation of Mexico, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced from inside a Lubbock Mexican restaurant that he’s undoing virtually all of his COVID-19 restrictions starting next Wednesday. That means all Texas businesses will be able to open at full capacity, and that Texans will no longer be required to wear masks or face coverings in public.
“State mandates are no longer needed,” Abbott said Tuesday, announcing the state government’s retreat from public health-minded restrictions a year into the coronavirus pandemic.
Abbott touted Texas’ recently improved COVID-19 metrics and the ongoing vaccine rollout as reasons why he’s taking back his previous executive orders.
“Hospitalizations are the lowest that they have been in four months. The number of active COVID cases is the lowest since November, and is less than half of what it was just a month ago,” Abbott said.
“That means that far more Texans are recovering from COVID than contracticing it,” he continued, before bragging that the state’s coronavirus test positivity rate has finally fallen to under nine percent for the first time in months.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo tore into Abbott's decision to roll back coronavirus restrictions now. “Taking away critical public health interventions that we know are working won’t make our community safer, nor will it hasten our return to normalcy," she wrote in a statement. "Quite the opposite, every time public health measures have been pulled back, we’ve seen a spike in hospitalizations. If we start the climb now, we’d be starting from the highest starting point ever when it comes to our hospital population, an unacceptable and dangerous proposition."
"With the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines," Hidalgo continued, "we’re inching closer to the finish line of this pandemic - now is not the time to reverse the gains we’ve worked so hard to achieve." She then accused Abbott of potentially using his latest announcement to distract Texans from the catastrophic power failures that crippled Texas under his watch during February's winter disaster.
"At best, today’s decision is wishful thinking. At worst, it is a cynical attempt to distract Texans from the failures of state oversight of our power grid,” Hidalgo said.
Abbott said Texas will have administered nearly seven million vaccine shots by next Wednesday, and said the newly-approved one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s rollout will help up those numbers significantly. He said the state’s efforts to deliver vaccines to elderly Texans (the Save Our Seniors initiative, SOS for short) means that the people most likely to die from a bad case of COVID-19 will soon be protected, even more reason to do away with pesky health-minded government regulations.
What Abbott didn’t bring up is the fact that far more white Texans have received vaccine shots than Texans of color, a troubling truth considering that Black and Hispanic people are much more likely to have serious complications or die from the coronavirus.
Without mentioning that over 43,000 Texans have died from the coronavirus, or that more than 23,000 of those fatalities happened in the past four months, Abbott said it’s now time for personal responsibility to reign supreme.
“Make no mistake, and to be clear, COVID has not, like, suddenly disappeared. COVID still exists in Texas and the United States and across the globe,” Abbott said. “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 the only caveat to the reopening of a mask-free Texas is that if any county sees over 15 percent of its hospital beds filled by COVID-19 patients for seven straight days, “Then a county judge in that region may use COVID restrictions in their county.”
The catch, Abbott explained, is that even in those instances, no one can be jailed for not following any COVID-19 restrictions, “and no penalties can follow from not wearing a face mask,” he said.
“Texas is doing more than ever to save lives and to reduce the spread of COVID,” Abbott claimed. “We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy in the lives of Texans.”
Abbott's latest executive order is embedded below:
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