- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday he is ending a statewide mask mandate and will allow businesses to reopen at full capacity even as the virus circulates at dangerous levels, saying residents are suffering economically and vaccines provide a way out of the pandemic.

Mr. Abbott said many Texans cannot get jobs, while small businesses are struggling to pay bills under pandemic limits that restricted occupancy to half or 75%.

“This must end. It is now time to open Texas 100%,” Mr. Abbott said. “Everybody who wants to work, should have that opportunity. Every business that wants to be open, should be open.”

The announcement follows similar moves in Iowa and Montana to lift statewide mask mandates. Other places have lifted limits on restaurant capacity or other business restrictions.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves on Tuesday said he is lifting all county mask mandates and that businesses can operate at full capacity without state-imposed rules.

“Our hospitalizations and case numbers have plummeted, and the vaccine is being rapidly distributed. It is time!” tweeted Mr. Reeves, a Republican.

Texas is the largest and most high-profile state to issue a rollback, however. 

The move clashes with the White House’s plea for states to remain cautious while the nation gets immunized. 

Reported cases had been plummeting but appear to have leveled off at a still-dangerous average of 70,000 per day, as aggressive variants of the virus proliferate.

“Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday. “These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress. Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.”

Mr. Abbott resisted calls to impose restrictions last year but changed course amid a “Sun Belt surge” that struck Texas, Arizona, Florida and California.

Mr. Abbott is lifting the rules at a time when the state’s rolling average of daily cases, about 7,600, is higher than the 6,500 recorded around the time he imposed a mask mandate in early July.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who’s been criticized for fluctuating COVID-19 rules that don’t seem to sync with the disease’s metrics, panned the Texan’s move.

“Absolutely reckless,” the Democrat tweeted.

Mr. Abbott justified his decision by saying Texas was in a far better position than when he issued executive orders to control the pandemic last year. He said Texans have an abundance of protective gear and tests and that residents had “mastered” the daily habits needed to avoid getting the virus.

The governor said treatments for COVID-19 have come online and, most importantly, that vaccines will “protect Texans from COVID.”

Texas has administered 5.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, with 12.7% of its population receiving at least one dose and 6.5% fully vaccinated with two-dose vaccines, according to a Bloomberg News tracker.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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