Texas will end its mask mandate next week and will allow all businesses to operate at full capacity, including sporting events, concerts and other events.
Governor Greg Abbott made the policy announcement yesterday (Tuesday) and will be enacted March 10, which will make Texas the most populous state in the country that does not require residents to wear masks.
Businesses, such as bars, venues and restaurants, can choose to implement their own mask policies, however they will not be backed by the government.
The new order states that Texas counties can implement some mitigation strategies if coronavirus-related hospitalisations rise above 15 per cent of bed capacity for seven straight days. Counties would be able to limit business capacity in such cases.
Abbott said residents were still “strongly encouraged” to wear masks when social distancing was not possible.
“Removing state-wide mandates does not end personal responsibility,” said Abbott, whose state is the second most populous in the country. “It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed.”
The decision comes as governors across the US have been easing coronavirus restrictions, including Mississippi, Michigan and Louisiana. In Mississippi, Governor Tate Reeves announced on Tuesday that the state was lifting rules for businesses and removing county mask mandates.
States including Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, the third-largest by population, have not imposed state-wide mask mandates during the pandemic.
Texas, which has so far recorded 43,000 deaths from COVID-19, has seen the number of cases and deaths fall, with hospitalisations 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.
The move has been heavily criticised by Texas Democrats, with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner saying he was “disgusted” by the decision and would look for ways to maintain a mask mandate in his city.
The state has so far administered six million vaccine doses, with 3.7 million people receiving at least one shot, according to the CDC. The Governor’s office said it expects that more than half of its seniors will have received at least one dose by the middle of next week, the Financial Times reports.