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By Tony Farkas
LUBBOCK — On the day Texans were celebrating its independence, residents were freed in a different way, as Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday issued an executive Order lifting the mask mandate in Texas and increasing capacity of all businesses and facilities in the state to 100 percent.
The governor made the announcement at Montelongo's Mexican Restaurant in Lubbock in an address to the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce.
"With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus,” Abbott said. "We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 percent.
“Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed,” he said. “Today's announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year. Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others."
San Jacinto County Judge Fritz Faulkner said he thinks that's good news for the businesses and the people of the state.
“I hope we don’t throw caution to the wind,” Faulkner said. “I’m tickled to hear that, because I believe the governor has faith in the people of Texas, as I have of the people of San Jacinto County, to be safe and be smart.”
During his remarks, Abbott discussed advancements that Texas has made that allow the state to open fully and lift the mask mandate—noting the rapid increase of vaccines.
Statistics show that nearly 5.7 million vaccine shots have been administered to Texans, and the state is now administering almost 1 million shots each week. By next Wednesday, about 7 million shots will have been administered in Texas and over half of seniors in Texas will have received a vaccine shot.
By the end of March, every senior who wants a vaccine should be able to get one. The vaccine supply continues to increase so rapidly that more and more Texans will soon be eligible to receive a vaccine.
San Jacinto County has been designated as one of 26 counties in the state to be part of the Save Our Seniors program, and on Wednesday and Thursday senior citizens will be given the coronavirus immunization.
Abbott also noted that Texas has a surplus of personal protective equipment and can perform more than 100,000 COVID-19 tests a day. The state has invested in a variety of antibody therapeutic drugs that have kept thousands of Texans out of hospitals. Texans have also adopted daily habits that reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure and infection. More than 2.5 million Texans who were lab confirmed for COVID-19 have recovered since the beginning of the pandemic, and experts note the total number of Texans who have recovered from COVID-19 is likely 4-5 times that amount. The number of active COVID-19 cases is the lowest since November — meaning more Texans are recovering from COVID-19 than contracting it.
This executive order rescinds most of the Governor's earlier executive orders related to COVID-19. Effective next Wednesday, all businesses of any type may open to 100 percent capacity. Additionally, this order ends the statewide mask mandate in Texas. Businesses may still limit capacity or implement additional safety protocols at their own discretion.
A stipulation of the order is that if COVID-19 hospitalizations in any of the 22 hospital regions in Texas get above 15 percent of the hospital bed capacity in that region for seven straight days, a County Judge in that region may use COVID-19 mitigation strategies.
However, County Judges may not impose jail time for not following COVID-19 orders nor may any penalties be imposed for failing to wear a face mask. If restrictions are imposed at a County level, those restrictions may not include reducing capacity to less than 50 percent for any type of entity.