Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday he is lifting business capacity limits and the state’s mask mandate starting next week.

Abbott made the announcement at a news conference in Lubbock.

“Every business that wants to open should be open,” Abbott said.

Abbott said that county judges can institute coronavirus-mitigation measures in their counties if the hospitalization rate rises above 15% for seven consecutive days. However, he said no one can be jailed for failing to follow those protocols or be penalized for not wearing a mask.

The governor said the state is in a much better position than when the pandemic started last year, citing a lower number of cases, a higher number of recoveries and wider availability of vaccines.

“Despite these changes, remember this – removing state mandates does not end personal responsibility,” Abbott said.

You can view a copy of the governor’s order below:

Houston-area officials say the move is ‘premature’

Both Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner jointly signed a letter to Abbott, asking him to keep the mask mandate in place.

In the Tuesday letter, Hidalgo and Turner said they believe lifting the mandate would be “premature and harmful” to the progress made in the pandemic thus far.

“Especially with the arrival of new variants of the virus to Texas and our cities, with the associated potential for a future spoke in cases, preserving the most effective of our existing safety measures is even more important,” the leaders wrote.

Houston health officials announced Monday that wastewater testing has revealed an increasing amount of COVID-19 variants in the city with the UK version becoming the primary variant being detected.

Hidalgo echoed the concerns raised in the letter during a news conference held after Abbott’s announcement.

“We shouldn’t play with lives in this way, because, what I’m afraid of, is when people see this rescinding of public health interventions, of public health guidelines and restrictions, what they’re going to hear is that there’s an all-clear,” Hidalgo said. “What I want to say, very directly, is that’s not the case. That’s not the case.”

Turner said he is disappointed in the governor’s decision, and that it undermines the sacrifices that have already been made by people over the past year.

“It works against, minimizes, all the efforts,” Turner said.

Turner said he is tired of Texas being in the national spotlight because of poor decisions.

“Why must Texas always be in the national news for making decisions that go contrary to science and the medical professionals and data?” Turner asked.

Both Turner and Hidalgo said they believe Abbott’s decision may be an effort to deflect attention away from the failure of the state’s power grid during the recent winter storm.

Read the letter from Hidalgo and Turner and more about their reaction here.

School districts issue decisions

Schools are part of Abbott’s new executive order regarding masks and capacity. According to the order, districts must follow the guidelines laid out by the Texas Education Agency.

Leaders at several Houston-area school districts have issued statements about the new order, including Houston, Katy, and Fort Bend independent school districts.

Read more about their rules here.

Social-media reaction

There have been mixed reactions to Abbott’s announcement on social media.

Some people applaud the move, while others encourage people to stay away from Texas if they want to live.

Source: www.click2houston.com