As phrases like “RIP Texas” and “I HATE IT HERE” started trending on Twitter, reactions to Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to fully reopen Texas despite the ongoing pandemic and to reverse his statewide mask mandate flooded in on Tuesday afternoon.
The tone and tenor of the responses pretty much tracked with however the responder already thought the governor was doing on fighting COVID-19, with his biggest critics blasting the decision and Abbott’s supporters praising him for boldly standing up for the Texan economy.
Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa lambasted Abbott’s decision to roll back pandemic restrictions, repeating his frequent refrain that Abbott “is the worst governor in modern Texas history.”
“From leaving Texans to literally freeze to death to letting a deadly virus have an open season on our residents, Governor Abbott has proven many times over that he neither understands the struggles of everyday Texans, nor does he care about doing his basic duty to protect them,” Hinojosa wrote.
“This will kill Texans,” he said.
Hinojosa’s Democratic ally Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo also pointed to last month’s winter storm in her response to Tuesday’s news, and warned that Abbott may be trying to distract Texans from our state government’s failures during that disaster. “At best,” she wrote, “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.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner also thought the timing of Abbott’s announcement was suspiciously close to the blackouts that happened under the governor's watch, but mostly sounded sick of having our state thrust into the news for ignoring science yet again. “It’s a national embarrassment,” he said.
Clearly frustrated, Fort Bend County Judge KP George pointed to the widespread support for face masks he saw when his county surveyed residents at the beginning of the pandemic (75 percent of residents were pro-mask, he said). “In fact,” George wrote, “since statewide facial coverings were implemented, we experienced a major reduction in cases and hospitalizations in the following weeks. Science shows us that communities are freer and fare better when more citizens wear simple masks.”
“No matter what you may hear about how things are going in Texas,” George wrote, “COVID-19 has, and continues, to kill and affect too many in our community.”
Predictably, Abbott’s fellow Republican and Speaker of the Texas House Dade Phelan took a far rosier tone and praised the governor’s announcement. “With greater access to vaccinations, better treatment options, and decreasing hospitalization rates, the Texas approach empowers citizens to exercise personal responsibility about their health in the fight against COVID-19,” he said.
“Today’s action marks an important step in the reopening of Texas,” Phelan continued, “improving the mental health of our students, increasing the reporting of domestic violence and child abuse, and revitalizing our business climate.”
Surprising no one, right-wing bomb-thrower Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick lauded Abbott’s decision to get out of the public health policy-enforcement game.
“The Texas economy is coming back stronger than ever and Governor Greg Abbott’s announcement today will help us restore the livelihoods of millions of Texans even faster,” Patrick wrote. “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.”
State teacher advocacy groups were far less optimistic about Abbott’s latest rollbacks. Texas State Teachers Association President Ovidia Molina wrote that she thinks 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.”
Zeph Capo, president of Texas’ American Federation of Teachers chapter, agreed with Molina. “Abbott has shirked his responsibility to stick with medical advice and clarify what needs to happen to keep our schools safe,” Capo said. “Every top health official has stressed that even with vaccinations we need to keep using the most simple tools to stop the spread.”
“So what does Abbott do? He rejects the most effective tool we have — masks,” he continued.
As for school systems themselves, the Houston Independent School District’s press office issued a statement saying that HISD “will continue to require all students, staff, and visitors to wear masks on district property and at district events,” a requirement the district says “is consistent with the advice of health professionals and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
A Klein Independent School District spokesman said that his district “will continue to follow current TEA health and safety guidance” and would be awaiting more advice on how to proceed from the state’s education agency. Through its official Twitter account, the agency announced that “Updated public health guidance from the TEA will be coming this week.”
Texas grocery giant H-E-B will still require its employees to wear masks on the job, but spokeswoman Dya Campos said in a statement that the grocer will only request shoppers to do the same. “As an essential service provider during the pandemic, H-E-B is focused on the health and safety of our partners and customers. H-E-B will still require all our partners and vendors to wear masks while at work, and we urge all customers to please wear a mask when in our stores,” Campos said.
A representative from Kroger told the Houston Press the grocery chain didn't currently have an update to share on how it will respond to Abbott’s new orders. Update: 8 p.m.: In an emailed statement, Kroger said:
"Although the statewide mask mandate has been lifted in Texas, to ensure the safety of our customers and associates, Kroger will continue to follow health and safety guidelines recommended by the CDC by requiring all associates in our stores to wear a mask. We encourage all customers visiting our stores to continue to wear a mask to protect themselves, those around them, and our associates. We remind those who can’t wear masks that we offer low touch or no touch pickup and delivery services."
Republican U.S. Rep Dan Crenshaw didn’t miss out on the obvious bit of symbolism Abbott leaned into by making his announcement on the anniversary of Texas' 1836 declaration of independence:
Happy Independence Day Texas. https://t.co/aHUNxEcH7D— Rep. Dan Crenshaw (@RepDanCrenshaw) March 2, 2021
Local Democrat and former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins was far less amused than his fellow Houstonian:
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