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Texas, Mississippi End Mask Mandates
By The Associated Press
LUBBOCK - Texas will become one of 16 states without a statewide order mandating masks in public, under a new executive order issued Tuesday by Gov. Greg Abbott.

Abbott tweeted, “Texas is OPEN 100%. EVERYTHING.”

“Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility,” said Abbott, speaking from the crowded dining room of a restaurant in Lubbock. “It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed,” he said.

The repeals take effect March 10. 

Abbott, a Republican, has faced sustained criticism from his party in America’s biggest red state over the statewide mandate imposed eight months ago, as well as business occupancy limits that Texas will also scuttle next week.

Local officials will have some ability to impose new rules if cases spike, Abbott said, but those powers will be limited.

At Bob’s Steak & Chop House in Dallas, founder Bob Sambol welcomed the ability to make decisions for his own restaurant again, even though he has not decided what approach he’ll take. “I have a week, thank God,” Sambol said.

Abbott joins a growing number of governors across the U.S. who are easing coronavirus restrictions. 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.

Abbott’s rollbacks come just as the U.S. is picking up the pace of vaccinating people -- with victory over the virus in sight. In Texas, 7.1% of its nearly 30 million residents have been fully vaccinated, according to state data reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Early in the pandemic, Abbott stripped local officials of their power to implement tougher COVID-19 restrictions, but now says counties can impose “mitigation strategies” if virus hospitalizations exceed 15% of all hospital capacity in their region. However, Abbott forbade local officials from imposing penalties for not wearing a face covering.

Retailers and other businesses will still be allowed to impose capacity limits and other restrictions on their own. Target, one of the nation’s biggest retailers, said it would continue requiring customers to wear masks in Texas. Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, said he had no immediate plans to change the limits on fans at the American Airlines Center, where the biggest crowd so far this season was about 3,000 spectators.

Most of the country has lived under mask mandates during the pandemic, with at least 37 states requiring face coverings to some degree. But those orders are increasingly falling by the wayside: North Dakota, Montana and Iowa have also lifted mask orders in recent weeks.

In Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves announced similar plans Tuesday.

“If businesses or individuals decide to take additional precautions, they are absolutely within their rights,” Reeves said at a news conference Tuesday. “In fact, it may be smart. But we are not going to continue to use the heavy hand of government when it is no longer justified by the reality we see around us.”

Reeves tweeted Tuesday, "We’ve been among the 4 or 5 most open states throughout this crisis, and we’ve been rewarded for it with more jobs and economic recovery."

Texas and Mississippi join 14 other states either lifted their mask mandate or never adopted one in the first place, according to AARP:

Alaska
Arizona
Florida
Georgia
Idaho
Iowa
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
North Dakota
Oklahoma
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee

Published 10:35 AM, Wednesday Mar. 03, 2021
Updated 08:44 AM, Thursday Mar. 04, 2021

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