The Daily Beast
Mark Felix/AFP/GettyDALLAS—Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he planned to end the state’s mask mandate and allow all businesses to fully reopen, ignoring the pleas of local officials and the state’s slow vaccination rollout.“It is now time to open Texas 100 percent,” Abbott said at a press conference during a Chamber of Commerce luncheon at a Lubbock restaurant. “Every business that wants to be open, should be open.”As the nation’s second largest state, Texas may become the first domino in a series of reopenings that go against the advice of public health experts. Shortly after Abbott’s announcement on Tuesday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a fellow Republican, announced his state would follow suit in fully reopening and rescinding mask mandates.Imagine One of These Cities Wiped Out—That’s How Many Americans COVID KilledTexas reported 7,778 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University, and 212 deaths; a steep decline from the virus’ peak in early January, when the seven-day case average regularly broke 20,000, according to The New York Times.However, the state’s high positive test rate—trending upwards—could indicate that not enough people are being tested, according to Johns Hopkins University. Among the 50 states, only Georgia and Utah rank behind Texas in terms of the percentage of residents who’ve received at least one shot of the coronavirus vaccine, according to Times data.“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,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said at Monday’s White House briefing. “Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know could stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.”According to the Texas Tribune, vaccinations took a dramatic dip during the winter storm last month that left millions without power for days.Nevertheless, business would be allowed to reopen from next Wednesday, Abbott said, adding that he would expand the state’s vaccine eligibility categories beyond seniors, health-care workers, and adults with underlying conditions. Abbott didn’t provide specifics on what such expansion would look like. He said he expected the state to receive an influx of shipments of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, adding to a deployment of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine that arrived in the state on Tuesday.While individual businesses can still chose to limit customers or require masks, Abbott said city or county ordinances are no longer valid, potentially paving the way for mass gatherings to resume. County judges can impose restrictions if their hospitalizations reach 15 percent for seven straight days, he said.“To be clear: COVID has not suddenly disappeared. COVID still exists,” Abbott said, as the mic picked up a faint cough. “But it is clear… that state mandates are no longer needed.”Travis Smith, a 28-year-old fast food worker in Houston said he was filled with rage as he watched Abbott’s announcement.“I was horrified. I have no idea what situation I’m going to be going into when I go to work next,” he told The Daily Beast. “The [mask] mandate that was already in place was not being followed by everyone that would come into the restaurant... And now I feel like I have no protections at all.”He said he had a coworker who was hospitalized with COVID and on the brink of death. Then, the winter storm hit, leaving millions without power and locals dying of hypothermia in their homes. “[C]oming out of that and to have this announcement, workers... need more protections right now, we do not need less protections.”Lee Daugherty, owner of Alexandre’s Bar in Dallas, said he’d listen to his staff and to health professionals over politicians.“This is very reminiscent of June in 2020 when the state tried to open a month or two too early,” he said. “This unfortunately shows that Texas GOP Republicans are promoting business over health and profits over people, once again.”Some Democratic officials had pleaded with Abbott not to reopen too early. The Houston Chronicle reports that Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wrote to Abbott before his Tuesday press conference, urging him not to rescind the mask mandate.“Supported by our public health professionals, we believe it would be premature and harmful to do anything to lose widespread adoption of this preventative measure,” Hidalgo and Turner wrote, according to the Chronicle.“This is a reckless decision that will cost lives,” Rep. Julián Castro (D-TX), a former San Antonio mayor and presidential candidate, wrote Tuesday on Twitter.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.