The Republican lawmaker announced his decision during a press conference Tuesday, arguing that his constituents have sufficiently adhered to coronavirus safety measures to the point that they’re no longer necessary. Abbott said he believed it was time to reopen Texas 100 percent, as the state is in a much better place in regards to mitigating the spread of the virus. He pointed to the decline in hospitalizations and positivity rates, as well as the ongoing vaccine rollout.
“With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus,” Abbott said in a press release. “We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 percent. 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. Today’s announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year. Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others. With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny.”
Under the executive order, which goes into effect next Wednesday, all Texas businesses will be permitted to reopen at 100 percent capacity. Individual business owners may enforce safety policies, such as capacity limits or mask requirements, at their own discretion. If COVID-related hospitalizations surpass 15 percent for seven consecutive days, a county judge within the affected region may impose mitigation strategies. The judge cannot, however, impose jail time for failure to adhere to the policies, nor can they issue any penalties or those who refuse to wear a face mask.
According to the Texas Tribune, only 6.5 percent of Texans had been fully vaccinated as of Feb. 28. Health experts estimate the Lone Star State must vaccinate 75 percent to 90 percent of its population to achieve reach herd immunity.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves made a similiar announcement Tuesday, citing a reduction in hospitalizations and confirmed cases as major factors in his decision.
“Today, I signed what I expect will be one of my last executive orders regarding COVID-19. Our hospitalizations have plummeted, and our case numbers have fallen dramatically as well,” Reeves said, as reported by the Clarion Ledger. “In fact, our case numbers have fallen to the point where no county meets the original criteria for a mask mandate.”
Reeves’ executive order goes into effect this Wednesday. The only restrictions that will remain in place are the capacity limits for K-12 schools and a 50 percent capacity limit on indoor arenas.
Local leaders and health experts have pushed back against the decision to rescind COVID restrictions. Houston Health Authority Dr. David Persse called Abbott’s decision “premature” and had previously urged the governor to reconsider.
“This would absolutely not be a good time to do that,” Dr. Persse told KHOU11 earlier this week. “… I’d rather we make a decision based on the science.”
You can read more reactions to Abbott and Reeves’ executive orders below.