Former congressman Beto O’Rourke has said that Texas governor Greg Abbott lifting the face mask mandate is a “death warrant” for the state, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Abbott, a Republican, announced on Texas Independence Day on Tuesday that from next week residents of the state will no longer be required to wear face masks and encouraged businesses to reopen at 100 per cent capacity.
Taking to Twitter following the governor’s announcement, Mr O’Rourke, who unsuccessfully ran for Senate in Texas in 2018 and for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2019, criticised the decision.
“A death warrant for Texans. Add them to the 44,000+ killed as he failed to confront the pandemic & botched the vaccine rollout.
“And those who froze to death because he cares more about energy companies’ profits than keeping Texans alive. Abbott is killing the people of Texas,” Mr O’Rourke tweeted on Tuesday afternoon.
The former congressman referenced the mass power outages and lack of clean water that affected millions of residents in Texas last month, which was caused by freezing temperatures amid Winter Storm Uri.
Dozens of people died in Texas during the storm and Mr Abbott faced calls to resign as millions went without power for multiple days.
Mr Abbott made the face mask announcement in front of a mostly maskless crowd on Tuesday and defended his decision by claiming that “state mandates are no longer needed.”
However, the governor, who confirmed that the order will take effect from 10 March, stressed that residents should still practice caution, adding: “Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility.”
The mask mandate was first implemented in the state in summer 2020, as Texas began to see a spike in coronavirus cases and deaths.
Although the amount of positive Covid-19 tests and fatalities in Texas has fallen over the past few weeks, the state still recorded 7,240 cases and 275 deaths from the virus on Tuesday.
Other Democratic politicians in Texas criticised Mr Abbott’s decision to lift the mask mandate, with Houston mayor Sylvester Turner saying: “I just don’t get it.”
The mayor added: “Every time we start moving in the right direction the Governor steps in and sets us back and makes all of our jobs harder. He minimises the sacrifices of people and businesses.”
While in a letter to Mr Abbott on Monday prior to the official announcement, state representative Richard Peña Raymond claimed that “Texas will experience more cases, more hospitalisations and more deaths” following the end of the mandate.
Over the weekend, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a one-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, with it becoming the third treatment available in the US alongside vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.
The country has vaccinated close to 80 million people, with that figure expected to rise rapidly with three vaccines now being administered across the US.
Texas has so far administered just under 6 million doses of coronavirus vaccines, with 2.07 million of those people now fully vaccinated, amounting to around 7 per cent of the state’s population.
Since the start of the pandemic, Texas has recorded more than 2.67 million coronavirus cases and at least 44,353 deaths, as the state has the third-highest total of Covid-19 fatalities behind New York and California.
According to Johns Hopkins University, there are now more than 28.7 million people who have tested positive for the coronavirus in the US. The death toll has reached 516,616.
The Independent has contacted Mr Abbott’s office for comment.