Texas lifts Covid mask mandate and reopens US state 100%

The second largest state in the country has a 7-day average of 228 Covid-19 deaths

A customer exits a store with a mask required sign displayed near the entrance Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Dallas. Texas is lifting a COVID-19 mask mandate that was imposed last summer but has only been lightly enforced. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement Tuesday makes Texas the largest state to do away with a face covering order. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Tuesday issued an executive order to remove the US state's mask mandate in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, saying businesses can reopen at 100 per cent with no capacity limits to stop the spread of Covid-19.

The move makes Texas the biggest US state to lift a mask mandate.

"Covid-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalisations and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed," Mr Abbot said in his statement.

Mr Abbott introduced the mandate in July while the state was facing a summer surge, along with other states in the south-eastern US.

However, through the eight months it has been in place, local reports have shown that authorities were not enforcing the order.

Texas currently has a seven-day average of 228 daily deaths to Covid-19, according to a tracker from The New York Times.

Mayors from two of the state's largest cities, Austin and Houston, issued statements calling for Mr Abbott to keep the mask mandate in place.

The state is also overcoming the aftermath of a rare February winter storm that left millions without power or running water for nearly a week. Dozens died in the historic storm.

Mr Abbott defended his decision by saying that Texans know how to take care of themselves.

Texas ranks third behind California and New York in number of Covid deaths, with more than 43,942 fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Mr Abbot's order states that local county judges "may use Covid-19 mitigation strategies" if a healthcare system sees hospital bed capacity rise above 15 per cent.

He also said judges were not allowed to sentence people to either fines or prison for not following health measures or for not wearing masks.

The state of Mississippi also announced the removal of its mask mandate on Tuesday.

North Dakota, Montana and Iowa have also lifted their mask mandates in recent weeks.

The decisions were made despite recommendations from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention not to rush into reopening.

"I’m really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from Covid-19," agency director Dr Rochelle Walensky said on Monday.

Coronavirus cases had been declining across the country but have recently stalled. Daily recorded infections remain at levels akin to the summer surge experienced in 2020.

There is also rising concern over Covid variants that have higher transmissibility and could evade Covid medical treatments or vaccines.

Mr Abbott cites the vaccine distribution programme in his decision to remove the mask mandate and allow for a full reopening.

"With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus," Mr Abbott's statement said.

Texas, the second most populated state in the US, has 6.8 per cent of its population fully vaccinated, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.  About 12.9 per cent of people have received only one dose of a vaccine.

"We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 per cent," the governor said.

The governor said businesses can impose their own Covid-related safety rules, including capacity limits or other measures. His executive order ends the state's role in such pandemic restrictions.