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Texas governor to end shutdown and mask mandate next week

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Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) – Nearly one year after first shutting down the state last March, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that Texas would reopen 100% beginning March 10. The statewide mask mandate is also terminated effective next Wednesday.

Abbott rescinded previous executive orders (GA-17, GA-25, GA-29, and GA-31) in a new order issued Tuesday, Executive Order (GA-34), because of the progress Texas has made in reducing the spread of the coronavirus, along with new treatments and greater availability of the COVID-19 vaccine.

More than 2.5 million Texans who were lab confirmed as testing positive for COVID-19 have recovered, the majority of whom recovered prior to the vaccine being distributed. Experts estimate the total recovery number is likely four-to-five times higher than 2.5 million, he said.

The number of active COVID-19 cases is the lowest it’s been since November, meaning more Texans are recovering from COVID-19 than spreading or contracting it, he added.

The governor also said he was rescinding the previous orders because “at this time businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate.” He made the announcement at Montelongo's Mexican Restaurant in Lubbock while addressing the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce.

Since last March, more than 10,000 businesses in Texas permanently and temporarily closed as a result of the governor’s executive orders and more than 7.2 million people have filed for unemployment.

According to the new order effective next Wednesday, all businesses of any type may open to 100% capacity and no person may be required by any jurisdiction to wear or to mandate the wearing of a face covering.

Businesses may still limit capacity or implement additional safety protocols at their own discretion, Abbott said, and nothing in the order “precludes businesses or other establishments from requiring employees or customers to follow additional hygiene measures, including the wearing of a face covering.”

"With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus,” Abbott said. "We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100%. Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed.”

In a short period of time, nearly 5.7 million vaccine shots have been administered to Texans, with nearly one million being administered every week. By next Wednesday, roughly 7 million shots will have been administered in Texas, with more than half of Texas seniors having received a vaccine shot. By the end of March, every senior who wants to receive a vaccine shot should be able to get one, he said.

Texas now has a surplus of personal protective equipment, Abbott said, and can perform more than 100,000 COVID-19 tests a day. The state has received a variety of anti-body therapeutic drugs from the federal government that have kept thousands of Texans out of hospitals.

If COVID-19 hospitalizations in any of the 22 hospital regions in Texas reach above 15 percent of the hospital bed capacity in their respective regions for seven straight days, a county judge in that region may use COVID-19 mitigation strategies. However, no judge may impose jail time for residents that do not comply with the judge’s COVID-19 order. Nor may any judge impose any penalties for those who do not wear a face covering. If judges did impose restrictions at a county level, they may not include reducing capacity to less than 50 percent for any type of business.

The order also supersedes any conflicting order issued by local officials. All existing state executive orders related to COVID-19 are amended to eliminate confinement in jail as an available penalty for violating the executive orders.