Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas. Bob Daemmrich/Pool Photo via AP
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he’d lift a mask mandate and allow businesses to open “100%.”
There’s been an uptick in cases in Texas after the winter storm, and it has numerous hot spots.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky warned this week that states shouldn’t let their guard down.
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Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas issued an executive order on Tuesday to allow the state’s businesses to open “100%” and to lift the state’s mask mandate effective March 10 as federal health officials warn states against relaxing restrictions too soon.
After a devastating winter storm, reported COVID-19 cases in Texas rebounded from a seven-day average of 4,412 on February 20 to 7,693 by Monday, according to The New York Times.
Texas also has more hot-spot counties than any other state: Ten counties have reported more than 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents on average over the past seven days.
A study recently identified Houston as the first US city where scientists had confirmed the presence of all the major COVID-19 variants, the Houston Chronicle reported on Monday.
Nationwide, a six-week decline in cases has leveled off, while hospitalizations and deaths have continued to decrease.
So far, according to The Times, just over 12% of Texans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and about 6% have been fully vaccinated, putting Texas toward the bottom of the pack of US states. The winter storms in February disrupted vaccine operations in Texas and nearby states.
Abbott’s executive order is precisely the type of action that Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned against on Monday.
“These data are evidence that our recent declines appear to be stalling – stalling at over 70,000 cases a day. With these new statistics, I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public-health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19,” Walensky said in a briefing of the White House’s COVID-19 task force.
“At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” she said, adding that “now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”
Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, tweeted that reopening Texas was “not what I’d recommend.”
“Infections are still high. Variants of concern are spreading. And TX is 48th among states in vaccinations,” he said. “With more vaccines on the way, doing this in a couple of months would be far more reasonable. Doing it now? Big risk with people’s lives.”
Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi also announced on Tuesday that his state would fully reopen.
“Starting tomorrow, we are lifting all of our county mask mandates and businesses will be able to operate at full capacity without any state-imposed rules,” he tweeted. “Our hospitalizations and case numbers have plummeted, and the vaccine is being rapidly distributed. It is time!”
Coronavirus restrictions – and by extension Abbott – have been at the center of a partisan tug-of-war in Texas. The conservative wing of Abbott’s party has hammered him over imposing any restrictions at all, while Democrats have criticized him as not going nearly far enough.
Abbott’s administration was also scrutinized after Texas’ independent power grid, ERCOT, which was developed during the 1970s to evade federal regulations, failed during the winter storm.
Problems with the power grid left millions of people without power or potable water as freezing temperatures and extreme weather descended on the state. Reporting later revealed that Texas’ power grid was minutes away from collapsing.
The Texas Democratic Party released a statement on Tuesday slamming the governor, who is up for reelection in 2022.
“What Abbott is doing is extraordinarily dangerous,” Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said. “He is the worst Governor in modern Texas history. 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.”
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