Beginning next Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott’s restrictions on business occupancies will vanish along with a mandate to wear a mask. The governor, who is arguing that Texans have “mastered the daily habits to avoid getting COVID,” says state-ordered restrictions are no longer necessary to control the spread of the coronavirus.
“Make no mistake, and to be clear, COVID has not, like, suddenly disappeared,” the governor, who is fully vaccinated, announced at a Lubbock Mexican restaurant. He was surrounded by a mostly maskless crowd that included civic boosters, Lubbock state Rep. Dustin Burrows, and Texas Tech University Chancellor Ted Mitchell. “COVID still exists in Texas and the United States and across the globe. But it is clear from the recoveries, from the vaccinations, from the reduced hospitalizations, and from the safe practices Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed.”
Only 4 percent of Texans are fully vaccinated, but the governor is relying in part on recoveries from COVID-19 to guide him, a metric that public health experts have warned is a flawed data point. He continues to speak about “antibody therapeutic drugs” that “keep (people) out of hospitals.”
On March 10, Abbott’s new executive order goes into effect. It lifts occupancy limits at all businesses. It no longer requires that Texans wear a face mask in public, only that they are “strongly encouraged to.” It asks Texans “to use good-faith efforts” in their vigilance against spreading the virus. County judges can enact mitigation efforts only when the region’s hospital census exceeds 15 percent of COVID-19 patients for a full seven days. Those could include local mask ordinances, but county judges can only limit occupancy at businesses to 50 percent. The governor is barring any punishment for not following those rules, effectively numbing local orders.
County judges cannot restrict attendance at churches, schools, universities, or child-care providers.
Currently, only two trauma service areas in the state meet that barometer: El Paso’s and Laredo’s. Locally, that number is 11.2 percent over the past week. That represents hospitalizations at 19 counties throughout the region that are served by the North Central Texas Trauma Advisory Council.
He’s leaving decisions largely to businesses, saying “they get to choose how to operate their busines however they want to.”
“People and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate,” Abbott said.
“Nothing in this executive order precludes businesses or other establishments from requiring employees or customers to follow additional hygiene measures, including the wearing of a face covering,” the order reads.
We’ll have more shortly.