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

Texas is lifting its mask mandate, Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday, 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.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has faced sustained criticism from his party over the statewide mask mandate, which was imposed eight months ago, as well as other restrictions on businesses that Texas will also scuttle next week.

The mask order was only ever lightly enforced, even during the worst outbreaks of the pandemic.The state is removing limits on the number of diners or customers allowed inside businesses, Mr Abbott said during a news conference at a restaurant in Lubbock.

He said the new rules would take effect March 10, unleashing a wave of alarm from big city mayors and leaders along the U.S.-Mexico border, where the virus has been especially rampant.

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

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

Federal health officials this week urgently warned states to not let their guard down, warning that the pandemic is far from over.

Still, governors across the U.S. are easing coronavirus restrictions.

Only California and New York have reported more COVID-19 deaths than Texas.“Absolutely reckless,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, tweeted in response to Mr Abbott’s announcement.

Texas is doing away with the restrictions just ahead of the spring break holiday, which health experts worry could lead to more spread as people travel.

“The fact that things are headed in the right direction doesn’t mean we have succeeded in eradicating the risk,” said Dr. Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of integrative biology and director of the University of Texas Covid-19 Modeling Consortium.

She said the recent deadly winter freeze in Texas that left millions of people without power — forcing families to shelter closely with others who still had heat — could amplify transmission of the virus in the weeks ahead, although it remains too early to tell. Masks, she said, are one of the most effective strategies to curb the spread.

The top county leader in Houston, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, called the announcement “wishful thinking” and said spikes in hospitalizations have followed past rollbacks of Covid-19 rules.“At worst, it is a cynical attempt to distract Texans from the failures of state oversight of our power grid,” said Hidalgo, a Democrat.

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.

“I appreciate Governor Abbott’s desire to return to normalcy, but I remained concerned that, at least in Hidalgo County, we may be moving too quickly,” Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez said.


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