Mask-wearing and gathering limits will no longer be enforced by state law
Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifted the statewide mask mandate and allowed all businesses to operate at 100 per cent capacity on March 10, while only one-tenth of Texans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Texans are still encouraged to follow all of the necessary health guidelines, including social distancing and wearing a mask in indoor spaces. However, Gov. Abbott explained that his people “no longer need government running their lives.”
U.S. President Joe Biden called the governor’s decision “Neanderthal thinking” on March 3, claiming that such measures are the last thing Americans need at this stage of the pandemic. This situation threatens Biden’s plan to have all Americans wearing a mask for the first 100 days of his presidency.
Mass sporting events and music concerts are also allowed to take place in Texas and may welcome over 10,000 spectators.
Despite receiving a green light from the state government, however, American businesses decided to further protect Texas residents from the spread of COVID-19.
Companies including Target, Best Buy, Toyota, and Macy’s will continue to require all of their employees and customers to wear a mask on their premises. The majority of retail stores, supermarkets, and pharmacies will not be cancelling their COVID policies across the state.
Gov. Abbott’s statewide changes have led to a political clash, as the Republican governor was met with resistance from Democrat mayors of Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin.
As the cities’ leaders have the authority to implement COVID restrictions on a local level, social distancing and mask-wearing will still be required in all municipal buildings including libraries and convention centres, as well as public transportation.
“We think that masking is so important. The doctors and the data all indicate that,” said Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin. “We’re going to stay on that course as long as we can. […] Now is not the time to take a risk.”
U.S. health officials have warned against lifting such restrictions, emphasizing the highly contagious variants and the lack of vaccination in the state. Despite the recent drop in daily coronavirus cases, Gov. Abbott’s decision directly goes against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
Houston became the first American city to record all the dangerous types of COVID strains, while Texas — a state of 29 million people — currently ranks 47th out of the 50 states in terms of per capita vaccine distribution.
As mask-wearing turns into a Republican-versus-Democrat debate rather than a health precaution, a political divide is inevitable on Texas’ path towards defeating COVID-19.