Texas governor Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday that the state is lifting its mask mandate. This makes Texas the largest state that no longer requires the mask mandate, which was put in place by President Joe Biden's in the first two days in office.
“Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility. It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed,” Abbott said in a statement from Lubbock while rescinding statewide face mask orders. The repeal will come into effect from March 10. This also means that Texas is fully reopening just ahead of the spring break holiday, which health experts worry could lead to more spread of Covid-19.
But governor Abbott justified the move saying that Texas has seen the number of cases and deaths plunge. Hospitalizations are at the lowest levels since October, and the seven-day rolling average of positive tests has dropped to about 7,600 cases, down from more than 10,000 in mid-February. But experts worry, as only 7.1 per cent of nearly 30 million residents of the state have been fully vaccinated, according to data reported by the state to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What is the mask mandate?
The mask mandate came into effect on February 1 after the CDC ordered that masks be worn while using any form of public transportation or while inside any transportation hub. Although the executive order that was passed by President Biden with respect to the masks said that masking is compulsory, it is still up to state governments to impose broader mask mandates or even reduce them.
What is the politics behind the move?
Abbott, a Republican, has faced sustained criticism from his party in America’s biggest red state over the statewide mask mandate. Thus, the move is a direct challenge to Biden’s mask mandate. But Abbott said that the state needs to reopen to ensure that businesses are open and employment is generated.
"For nearly half a year, most businesses have been open either 75 percent or 50 percent and during that time, too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities…. This must end. It is now time to open Texas 100 per cent. Every business that wants to be open should be open,” Abbott said.
What about other states?
Texas joins four states which have already lifted the mask mandates: Montana, Iowa, North Dakota and Mississippi. Currently, thirty-five state governments require people to wear masks in public.