Houston: Texas will lift its mask mandate and increase the capacity of all businesses to 100 per cent from March 10, Governor Greg Abbott has announced, making it the largest US state to end one of the most effective ways to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
“It is now time to open Texas 100%”, Abbot said on Tuesday.
The announcement by the Republican leader in Texas, where the virus has killed more than 42,000 people, has rattled doctors and city leaders who said they are now bracing for another deadly resurgence.
Texas is the largest US state to end its mask mandate. Abbott has faced criticism from his party over the measure, which was imposed last July.
The administration of US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has made it clear coronavirus restrictions are still necessary to contain the spread of the disease that has claimed the lives of over 516,400 people in the country.
Abbott made the announcement during a business event where he issued an executive order rescinding most of his earlier executive orders like the mask mandate.
He said businesses of any type will be allowed to open fully from March 10.
The new executive order lifts all mask requirements and forbids local authorities from penalising residents who do not wear a face covering.
It removes all restrictions on businesses in counties without a high number of COVID-19 patients in hospital.
“Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities. Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills. This must end. It is now time to open Texas 100%,” Abbot said.
Businesses may still limit capacity or implement additional safety protocols at their own discretion.
“With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus,” Abbott said. “Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalisations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed,” he said.
Nearly 5.7 million vaccine shots have been administered to Texans, and the state is now administering almost one million shots each week. By next Wednesday, about 7 million shots will have been administered in Texas and over half of seniors in Texas will have received a vaccine shot.
By the end of March, every senior citizen who wants a vaccine should be able to get one. The vaccine supply continues to increase so rapidly that more and more Texans will soon be eligible to receive a vaccine.
The announcement in Texas came as similar rules were lifted in other states, including Michigan, Louisiana, and Mississippi, which also ended its mask mandate.
The roll-out of vaccinations against Covid-19 has boosted confidence in a return to pre-pandemic life in the US.
Also on Tuesday, President Biden said the US was on track to have enough vaccines for every adult in the country by the end of May.
Meanwhile, Texas Governor Abbot’s announcement has rattled doctors and big city leaders who said they are now bracing for another deadly resurgence. One hospital executive in Houston said he told his staff they would need more personnel and ventilators.
Texas is doing away with the restrictions just ahead of the spring break holiday, which health experts worry could lead to more spread as people travel.