As Texas reaches the one-year mark of its first confirmed case of COVID-19, Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. during an address in Lubbock that the statewide mask mandate will be lifted and businesses can resume operations at 100 percent capacity beginning Wednesday, March 10.
Abbott’s order also states that counties cannot fine or penalize individuals who don’t wear masks. With all COVID-19-related executive orders reversed, Texas has joined Florida, Missouri and Iowa as the first states to fully reopen and remove statewide restrictions.
“Today’s announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year,” Abbott said in a press release. “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.”
After the executive order goes into effect, businesses will still be allowed to require masks on their premises, reduce capacity or add safety procedures at their own discretion, but individual counties are not allowed to enforce lower than 50 percent capacity.
However, if COVID-19 hospitalization rates rise above 15 percent for over seven consecutive days, county judges are permitted to use COVID-19 mitigation strategies, according to the terms of the new executive order.
According to The Eagle, Brazos County officials, including the mayors of both College Station and Bryan, said they are likely to lift most coronavirus restrictions, including mask requirements, following Gov. Abbott’s lead.
As of Tuesday, March 2, Brazos County reported 97 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the active case count to 820 and the total reported cases to 17,490. ICU bed occupancy is at 98 percent, with 32 county residents hospitalized. The total number of county COVID-19 deaths is up to 209.
Statewide, Texas has over 2.6 million total cases — 178,433 of which are active — with 44,108 COVID-19-related deaths — the second highest total cases and third highest deaths in the country. California takes first in both total cases and deaths, with New York reporting almost 4,000 deaths more than Texas.
This announcement comes as Texas moves toward Phase 1C of vaccine distribution, with 3.5 million Texas in the first two categories having already received at least one dose. Phase 1C has not been defined yet, but officials expect to release this information later this month.
It is unclear at this time whether Texas A&M will change its mask mandate or capacity protocols. Heading the COVID-19 response at the university is Dean of the School of Public Health Shawn Gibbs.
“We are reviewing the governor’s executive order and will have a statement out before it goes into effect on March 10,” Gibbs’ office said in a comment to The Battalion.