Coronavirus: Texas and other states ease rules despite warnings
Texas will lift its mask requirement and allow businesses to reopen at full capacity next week, Governor Greg Abbott has announced.
“It is now time to open Texas 100%,” the Republican said on Tuesday.
Texas is the largest US state to end its mask mandate. Mr Abbott has faced criticism from his party over the measure, which was imposed last July.
But the administration of US President Joe Biden has made it clear coronavirus restrictions are still necessary.
The announcement in Texas came as similar rules were lifted in other states, including Michigan, Louisiana, and Mississippi, which also ended its mask mandate.
The roll-out of vaccinations against Covid-19 has boosted confidence in a return to pre-pandemic life in the US.
On Tuesday, President Biden said the US was on track to have enough vaccines for every adult in the country by the end of May.
Yet the wave of reopenings has put states at odds with the Biden administration and its senior health officials, who have reacted with dismay to the relaxation of coronavirus measures at a precarious time in the pandemic.
On Monday the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned of a “potential fourth surge of cases” if the country lapsed into complacency.
Covid-19 data shows that, while infections and deaths have declined in recent weeks, they are still at high levels relative to other countries.
In total, the US has recorded more than 28 million infections and 516,000 deaths related to Covid-19, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University.
What did the Texas governor announce?
Mr Abbott issued an executive order that rescinded most of the coronavirus measures he imposed earlier in the pandemic.
The new executive order, which is to take effect on 10 March, lifts all mask requirements and forbids local authorities from penalising residents who do not wear a face covering.
It removes all restrictions on businesses in counties without a high number of Covid-19 patients in hospital.
“Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities,” Mr Abbott said in a speech at the Chamber of Commerce in the city of Lubbock. “Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills. This must end.”
He said that with increased vaccinations and improved treatment for Covid-19, the state was “in a far better position now”.
But, he added, “Covid has not suddenly disappeared”. Following weeks of decline, coronavirus infections and related deaths are creeping up again in Texas, data from the Covid Tracking Project showed.
Texas has recorded more than 43,000 deaths related to Covid-19, the third-highest state toll in the US.