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Texas becomes biggest US state to lift COVID-19 mask mandate

March 3, 2021 10:49 am

Texas is lifting its mask mandate, Gov. Greg Abbott said, making it the largest state to end an order intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that has killed more than 42,000 Texans.

The Republican governor has faced sharp criticism from his party over the mandate, which was imposed eight months ago, as well as other COVID-19 restrictions on businesses that Texas will also scuttle starting next week. The mask order was only ever lightly enforced, even during the worst outbreaks of the pandemic.

The repealed rules include doing away with limits on the number of diners or customers allowed indoors, said Abbott, who made the announcement at a restaurant in Lubbock. He said the new rules would take effect March 10, although leaders in Houston and other big Texas cities were already reacting with alarm.

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“Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility,” said Abbott, speaking from the crowded dining room where many of those surrounding him were not wearing masks.

“It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed,” he said.

The decision comes as governors across the U.S. have been easing coronavirus restrictions, despite warnings from health experts that the pandemic is far from over. Like the rest of the country, 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.

Only California and New York have reported more COVID-19 deaths than Texas.

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