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Houston Leaders Slam Gov. Greg Abbott’s Decision To Reopen Texas, End Mask Mandate

Both Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner harshly criticized the governor’s announcement, expressing fears that it would slow down recovery efforts.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday he’s ending the statewide mask mandate and allowing businesses to fully reopen. His announcement was harshly criticized by local leaders.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo slammed Gov. Greg Abbott's decision to reopen the economy with no restrictions and end the statewide mask mandate, calling the move "political."

"What I see here, is a premature and misguided decision that is putting the community at risk, and that is unnecessary because we're headed to where we need to go," Hidalgo said. "This is just not the time to give up."

Abbott announced Tuesday that he's ending the statewide mask mandate and allowing all businesses to operate at full capacity, starting Wednesday, March 10.

Abbott pointed to a drop in both COVID-19 testing positivity rates and hospitalizations as primary reasons for his decision. But in a statement, Hidalgo said the two actions run the risk of slowing down the recovery and reversing the gains that have been made.

There is a provision in Abbott’s executive order that allows county judges to take their own actions if COVID-19 hospitalizations in their area rise above 15% of the hospital bed capacity for seven straight days. Still, even then local leaders aren't allowed to implement penalties for not wearing face masks and businesses must still be allowed to operate at 50% capacity.

Hidalgo said changing behaviors once hospitals are already at that point is too late. "El Paso crossed that threshold, took steps, and yet their hospitals were overwhelmed," she said. "Fifteen percent is not a magical number that you can guarantee hospitals won’t be overwhelmed.”

Hidalgo also accused Abbott of distracting Texans from the”failures of state oversight on our power grid," a sentiment that was echoed by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

"It's a step in the wrong direction, unless the governor is trying to deflect what happened a little more than two weeks ago with the winter storm," said Turner. "I'm very disappointed in the Governor's announcement. To put it in stark terms, it makes no sense."

Turner said masks will still be required for city employees and on city property.

“Until people can get their vaccine, what is the protection? In large part, it’s the mask,” Turner said.

Still, some local businesses praised the decision. Melissa Stewart, executive director of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, said restaurant owners are relieved about the ability to open back up to 100% capacity.

"That is gonna be tremendous, and very very necessary for our industry," Stewart said. "Just being able to open up and really accommodate all of the folks who like to be there would be wonderful for our industry.”

Restaurants and other businesses can still enforce their own mask rules, though Stewart said it was helpful to have the statewide mandate.

"When it was statewide and everybody had to do it, it was easier for staff members to enforce," she said. "And we’re asking our front line employees a lot of times, whether it be retail or restaurant, to have to be the enforcers to something like that and that’s very uncomfortable."

In a statement, H-E-B said it will continue to require its employees to wear masks, but stopped short of saying customers would be required to do so.

"H-E-B will still require all our Partners and vendors to wear masks while at work, and we urge all customers to please wear a mask when in our stores," the grocery store chain said.

Additional reporting by Florian Martin

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