Texas Governor Greg Abbott speaks during an Operation Warp Speed Vaccination Summit at the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday, December 8, 2020.
Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Texas and Mississippi governors both announced Tuesday that they were lifting mask mandates and allowing companies to reopen at full capacity even as the decline in daily Covid-19 cases slows and federal officials urge states to exercise caution.
Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott said at a press conference at Montelongo’s Mexican restaurant in Lubbock that he would issue a new executive order that will lift most of his previous Covid-19 restrictions, including a statewide mask mandate. He added that all companies should open “100%” effective March 10th.
“Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility,” Abbott said in a crowded dining room where many did not wear masks. “It’s just that government mandates are no longer needed.”
“It is now time to open Texas 100%,” he added. Abbott had refrained from issuing a mask mandate until the summer when Covid cases surfaced in the state.
At around the same time as Abbott’s utterances, Mississippi Republican governor Tate Reeves announced in a separate press conference that he was lifting all masked mandates in the county and lifting statewide restrictions on almost all businesses.
“I’m replacing our current orders with referrals,” Reeves said. “The only rules that stay in this order are a 50% capacity limit for indoor arenas and those governing K-12 schools.”
Reeves and Abbott both cited the declining number of new Covid-19 cases and the increasing availability of vaccines as reasons for lifting restrictions. However, federal officials warned that the decline in new cases appears to be stalling and that the emergence of new coronavirus variants could lead to a resurgence.
And while Covid-19 vaccines are increasingly available across the country, CDC scientists have warned the country is far from herd immunity if enough people cannot immunize the virus who cannot spread throughout the community .
On Monday, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky state officials from being too quick to lift public health restrictions.
Walensky said at a Covid-19 briefing at the White House that while the number of new cases had declined rapidly since the peak in January, the decline appears to be flattening out with a worryingly high infection rate. She added that the spread of new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus poses a new threat that could reverse the nation’s progress, even if vaccines are introduced.
In the past seven days, the US reported an average of more than 67,700 new cases a day, according to Johns Hopkins University. That’s well below the high of about 250,000 new cases per day the country reported in January, but it’s still above the infection rate the U.S. saw in the summer when the virus swept the sun belt.
“At this level of cases where variants spread, we will completely lose the hard-earned ground we gained,” she said. “With these statistics, I’m really concerned that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from Covid-19.”
“Please listen to me clearly: at this level of cases with spreading variant, we are going to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” she said.
– CNBC’s Berkeley Lovelace Jr. contributed to this report.