Texas Democrats accused Gov. Greg Abbott (R) of lifting COVID-19 safety protocols as a way to distract from the blackout that plagued the state during the winter storm in mid-February, all while encouraging residents to continue to wear face coverings.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, both Republicans, expressed it might be too soon to reopen.
Abbott said on Tuesday it was time to "open Texas 100%" and ended the statewide mask mandate, effective next Wednesday. He cited downward trends in hospitalizations and the availability of medicines and vaccines to keep people from requiring hospitalization.
The new executive order allows all businesses, of any type, to open to 100% capacity and, though the governor strongly encouraged people to continue wearing face coverings in public, he said people will no longer be required to do so.
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"Masks work to slow the spread of COVID-19, plain and simple," Texas House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner (D-Arlington) said in a statement. "The fastest way we can all get back to normal is to listen to the director of the CDC, who just said that, 'Now is not the time to relax restrictions.' If the last year has taught us anything, it is that we need to listen to doctors and scientists more, not less. Unfortunately, Governor Abbott is desperate to distract from his recent failures during the winter storm and is trying to change the subject."
Abbott's executive order also removes the ability of local authorities to impose a mask mandate.
Whitley said he wished Abbott would have waited until after spring break to lift the mandate. Whitely said he would lift Tarrant County's mask mandate immediately to avoid confusion over the timing.
While Price tweeted if the state is going to remove safety precautions, it needs to change its response.
In Fort Worth, the renewal of a local mask order was scheduled to be on the agenda at a city council meeting Tuesday night. Price tweeted that the item would be withdrawn from the agenda.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins encouraged residents to listen to "doctors, facts and science."
U.S. Rep. Colin Allred (D-Dallas), whose district includes parts of northern Dallas County, released the following statement.
"Texas has made progress in the fight against Covid (sic), due in large part to statewide efforts that have limited the spread of this virus, helping to keep Texans safe and healthy. With our state just months away from widespread access to the vaccine, the Governor's move today jeopardizes the progress we have made and unnecessarily puts lives at risk. Just yesterday, the CDC noted we are facing more contagious variants and urged state leaders not to do this exact thing, which begs the question: whose medical advice is the Governor relying on?"
Other current and former elected officials from across the state weighed in on Abbott's decision on social media.
Sens. John Cornyn (R) and Ted Cruz (R) had not responded to the announcement as of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.