HOUSTON: Texas lifted its mask mandate and capacity restrictions on restaurants and other businesses Wednesday, despite experts warning the “100 percent” relaxation of coronavirus curbs will exacerbate the spread of worrying variants.
The Lone Star State became the fifth to rescind its face covering order in a sign of increasing optimism about the pandemic in the world’s hardest hit country, where the infection rate has been falling since January but still remains high in absolute terms.
The immunization campaign is continuing to gain momentum, with 93 million people so far receiving one or more doses, as Alaska became the first state to open up the shots to anyone aged 16 or over. A senior administration official said President Joe Biden plans to acquire 100 million more vaccines from Johnson & Johnson, giving the United States surplus capacity as it targets having enough vaccines for all adults by May.
“This must end,” said Texas Governor Greg Abbott when he announced his plans to ease restrictions last week. “It is now time to open Texas 100 percent.”
Private businesses can continue to set their own restrictions, and local jurisdictions can keep the order in place on municipal property. A federal mask order also remains in place.
Some 525,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 but while cases have declined dramatically since the January 11 peak, the infection rate has been plateauing since the last week of February at around 60,000 new cases per day.