Gov. Greg Abbott made the announcement from Lubbock, saying effective Wednesday, March 10, most statewide restrictions would be lifted.
LUBBOCK, Texas — Updated at 3:34 p.m. to include reaction from Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.
Gov. Greg Abbott is rescinding statewide face mask orders and reopening all businesses starting next Wednesday.
Abbott made the announcement Tuesday afternoon, saying that any type of business is allowed to reopen 100%. Businesses are still allowed to implement capacity limits or safety protocols.
"Businesses don't need the state to tell them how to operate," Abbott said.
If COVID-19 hospitalizations stay above 15% for seven straight days, a county judge may use mitigation strategies in their county, such as face masks. Judges may not enforce penalties for countywide face mask restrictions, Abbott said.
"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," Abbott said.
Now is the right time for Texas to be fully reopened, Abbott said, because Texas has the ability to administer over 100,000 COVID-19 tests per day and there are antibody treatments. He said as of Tuesday, the state has under a 9% positivity rate.
More vaccines are coming to the state, including the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine. By next Wednesday, there will have been 7 million shots administered to Texans, the governor said.
"By the end of this month, every senior who wants a vaccine shot will be able to get a vaccine shot," Abbott said.
He also said that within a few months, every Texan who wants a vaccine shot will be able to get a vaccine shot.
Health experts, including a member of the statewide task force, a UNT epidemiologist and the past president of the Dallas County Medical Society, told WFAA last week now is not the time to relax restrictions.
Stephen Love, the president/CEO of the DFW Hospital Council, said that removing the mask mandate "is very unfortunate."
"The COVID-19 virus with variants is still here and we have not achieved herd immunity," Love said. "This decision will cause the community spread to increase, forcing our exhausted healthcare heroes to diagnose, treat and save the lives of newly infected patients."
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins also called the decision "unfortunate."
"It's unfortunate that on a day we record 25 deaths, which takes us above 3,000 [COVID-19] deaths for Dallas County since COVID began nearly a year ago, the governor has removed all of the state orders that he designed to protect you and the people that you care about from contracting COVID," the judge said. "But for us here in North Texas, and for all Texans, we need to focus not on what the governor tells you the law allows, but on what doctors and the facts and the science that we all know well at this point tell us is necessary to keep us safe and give us our best chance of reaching herd immunity as quickly as possible."
The most recent report from UT Southwestern says that mask usage in North Texas remains very high.
While COVID-19 case and hospitalization numbers have been ticking down recently, declines are starting to plateau, according to federal officials and UT Southwestern models.
Cases and hospitalizations still remain very high, close to the high levels reached in the summer months last year.