Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said on Tuesday that he was ending his statewide mask mandate, effective March 10, and that all businesses in the state could then operate with no capacity limits. “It is now time to open Texas 100 percent,” he said.
Governor Abbott took the action after federal health officials warned governors not to ease restrictions yet, because progress across the country in reducing coronavirus cases appears to have stalled in the last week.
“To be clear, Covid has not, like, suddenly disappeared,” Mr. Abbott said. “Covid still exists in Texas and the United States and across the globe.”
Even so, he said, “state mandates are no longer needed,” because advanced treatments are now available for people with Covid-19, the state is able to test large numbers of people for the virus each day, and 5.7 million vaccine shots have already been given to Texans.
Speaking to reporters at a Chamber of Commerce event in Lubbock on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Abbott, a Republican, said that most of the mandates issued during the peak of the pandemic in the state would be lifted; he did not specify which mandates would remain. He said top elected officials in each county could still impose certain restrictions locally if hospitals in their region became dangerously full, but could not jail anyone for violating them.
“People and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate,” he said.
Democratic leaders in the state reacted swiftly and harshly to the announcement. “What Abbott is doing is extraordinarily dangerous,” Gilberto Hinojosa, the state party chairman, said in a statement, adding, “This will kill Texans. Our country’s infectious disease specialists have warned that we should not put our guard down, even as we make progress towards vaccinations. Abbott doesn’t care.”
The Biden administration has warned states not to relax restrictions too soon, despite the recent decline in cases. “We stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” the director of the C.D.C., Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said at a White House virus briefing on Monday.
The nation as a whole has been averaging more than 67,000 new cases a day lately, more than at any time during the spring and summer waves of cases, according to a New York Times database.
Texas was among the first states to ease restrictions after the first wave, a move that epidemiologists believe was premature and led to the summer surge across the Sunbelt.
Though conditions in the state and the nation have improved from a huge spike over the holidays, the coronavirus is still spreading rapidly in Texas. The state has been averaging about 7,600 new cases a day recently, rebounding from a drop in February when a severe storm disrupted testing. Texas is among the top 10 states in recent spread, averaging 27 cases for every 100,000 people.
And Texans are still dying of Covid 19 in significant numbers: The state reported an average of 227 Covid-19 deaths a day over the past week, more than any other state except California.
Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston and the top elected official in Harris County, Linda Hidalgo, both Democrats, wrote to Mr. Abbott on Tuesday before his announcement, asking the governor not to end the mask mandate and calling such a move “premature and harmful.”
“We must continue the proven public health interventions most responsible for our positive case trends, and not allow overconfidence to endanger our own successes,” they wrote.
Mr. Abbott made his reopening announcement in a Mexican restaurant, on the anniversary of Texas’ declaration of independence from Mexico in 1836.
Other officials easing restrictions on Tuesday:
Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, a Democrat, said bars in his state could reopen and live music could resume indoors, though the state’s mask mandate would continue.
Mayor London Breed of San Francisco, another Democrat, said indoor dining, museums and movie theaters will be allowed to reopen on Wednesday at limited capacity, after improving case and hospitalization data moved the city to a lower tier in the state’s reopening guidelines.
Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi, a Republican, signed an executive order on Tuesday lifting the state’s mask mandate, though he still recommended that people wear them and practice social distancing. K-12 schools in the state will still require masks “where social distancing is not possible.”