Texas Governor Greg Abbott ended Texas’ statewide mask mandate on Tuesday, 2 March, and announced an executive order to allow all businesses to reopen at full capacity.
Abbott’s executive order comes as many US states and major cities see a sharp decline in coronavirus infections and hospitalisations begin to ease the unprecedented lockdowns put in place a year ago.
“It is now time to open Texas fully”, Abbott, a first-term Republican, told a news conference. He said the order would take full effect on March 10.
The order lifts all mask requirements statewide 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 hospitalisations.
In remarks at the White House on efforts to step up vaccine production, Biden did not mention Texas. But the president appeared to be referring to Abbott’s executive order when he urged Americans to continue wearing face protection.
“Now is not the time to let up, I’ve asked the country to wear masks for my first 100 days in office. Now is not the time to let our guard down, people’s lives are at stake”, Biden said.
Referring to Abbott’s order on masks, White House COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt told said: “I hope the governor rethinks this, it’s only a small piece of cloth that’s needed, I don’t think it affects the economy of the state.”
As of Tuesday, 35 US states, along with the district of Columbia and Puerto Rico, still mandate that residents wear face masks in public. Mississippi also lifted its face-covering order on Tuesday.
More than 51 million Americans, or 15% of the total US population have been given at least one vaccine dose, according to the centers for disease control and prevention.
Biden said on Tuesday that through an agreement for Merck & Co Inc to help make rival Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, his administration had secured enough for every adult in the United States to be inoculated by the end of May.
COVID-19 infections have plummeted in recent weeks across much of the world, including the United States.