Earlier today, Gov. Greg Abbott announced at a Lubbock press conference that he was rescinding previous coronavirus-related statewide mandates.
“Texas is far better positioned now than when I issued my last executive order in October,” Abbott said on Texas Independence Day, Tuesday, March 2.
He said state mandates are no longer needed, and effective Wednesday, March 10, all businesses and facilities will be allowed to reopen at 100% capacity. In addition, the statewide mask mandate initially issued July 2020 will be rescinded. Businesses may still limit capacity or implement additional safety protocols at their discretion.
“Now, in Texas and across the country, we now have vaccines to protect Texans from COVID [-19],” Abbott said.
He said the COVID-19 vaccine’s availability has been rapidly increasing and by the end of the month, every senior citizen who wants a shot should be able to get one. And, within a few months, every Texan who wants a shot will be able to get one.
By next Wednesday, when the new executive order goes into effect, about seven million shots will have been given to Texans, according to Abbott.
Abbott also mentioned that coronavirus hospitalizations are the lowest they have been in four months and Texas has less than a 9% positivity rate at the moment.
“Far more Texans are recovering from COVID, than contracting it,” he said.
Abbott’s order doesn’t mean one shouldn’t take their own health seriously.
“COVID has not like, suddenly disappeared…,” he said.
Texans, Abbott said, should continue following medical advice on preventing the pandemic coronavirus “just as they do on other medical issues.”
Abbott’s announcement comes nearly a year after he issued a disaster proclamation certifying that COVID-19 poses an imminent threat of disaster for all counties in the state of Texas. Following that proclamation, executive orders were issued forcing schools to close and only allowing businesses deemed essential, such as grocery stores, to remain open to help slow the spread of the virus.
North Texas Medical Center CEO Tom Sledge said he had hoped for a slower lifting of health mandates.
"It is difficult to fully give an opinion until the details of the pending executive order are made available, but I would have preferred to see a phasing out of the order as opposed to a 100% elimination of the mask mandate,” he said. “I am pleased to see that the governor said that businesses can still implement safety precautions as each business sees fit. As a healthcare facility, we will continue to follow the safety precautions recommended by the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) and other entities that provide health care specific guidance."
Officials advise wearing a mask, frequently sanitizing hands, avoiding large gatherings and keeping six feet away from someone not in your immediate household.
Gainesville City Manager Barry Sullivan said once the mask mandate is lifted, city facilities will not require the use of a mask.
“We will also open to 100% occupancy at our different facilities,” Sullivan said after Abbott’s press conference.
Sullivan also said that employees in general will not be required to wear a mask.
“We do have employees that work with medical and health situations that will be required to wear masks during such encounters,” he said.
According to a statement issued by the Texas Education Agency, “updated public health guidance” will be coming this week.
Gainesville Independent School District spokeswoman Leslie Crutsinger said the district will require masks for all students and staff for the remainder of the school year.
Cooke County Emergency Management Coordinator Ray Fletcher said he and County Judge Steve Starnes are expected to meet about Abbott’s new order tomorrow, Wednesday, March 3.
“We’re evaluating it,” Fletcher said of Abbott’s latest executive order.
Abbott’s order does give the county judge the opportunity to impose mitigation strategies if the area’s hospital region gets above 15% for seven days. If the county judge does decide to do so, the farthest rollback will be 50% capacity for any type of entity.
Just last week, bars were given the green light to reopen in Cooke County.
In early December, coronavirus-related hospitalizations were above 15% for seven days for trauma service area region E which prompted a state mandate that closed bars and rolled back occupancy at restaurants to 50% from 75%. In order to get back to previous occupancy levels, the region had to be at or below 15% for seven days.
Cooke County is part of trauma service area region E, which includes most of the Metroplex.
COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019, is caused by a coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2. It first appeared in late 2019 in Wuhan, China.
Through Monday, March 1, there were 95 active coronavirus cases in Cooke County, according to a tally released by county officials Tuesday morning. Seventeen of those cases were hospitalized.
A total of 3,559 cases have been recorded, counting active, recovered and fatal cases.
As of press time Tuesday, there were 28,714,851 reported cases of the coronavirus nationwide and 516,346 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine. In Texas, there were 2,667,960 reported cases and 44,184 deaths.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus, officials said.