Texas governor Greg Abbott has announced that all businesses can reopen at 100 per cent capacity and that he is lifting the statewide mask mandate, implemented to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
The governor has been under pressure from fellow Republicans to remove the mask rule that has been in place for eight months. Restrictions end on 10 March.
Even as case numbers, deaths, and hospitalisations have dropped from the peak of the winter surge, health officials have expressed concern that the decline has plateaued and have warned against relaxing restrictions.
Texas has the third-highest number of deaths from Covid-19 after California and New York, with more than 42,000 Texans having died from the virus.
At a press conference on Tuesday, the Republican governor announced that he was issuing an executive order to rescind his previous orders that brought in the restrictions on business operations.
“Effective next Wednesday, all business of any type, are allowed to open 100 per cent,” he said to applause.
“That includes any type of entity in Texas,” he continued. “Also, I am ending the statewide mask mandate.”
The decision, which was announced at a restaurant in Lubbock, will allow food and beverage establishments to serve at full capacity inside.
This is a particular worry for health officials already concerned about an increase in cases from the recent winter storms that saw millions of Texans left without power and running water for days and forced to shelter wherever there was a source of heat.
The state had initially resisted implementing restrictions, but when the first surge hit in the summer, officials relented.
A strange duality then existed between those that didn’t believe the state was doing enough, led by the mayors of the largest cities, contrasted by spotty enforcement of state orders, with some local authorities refusing to police the restrictions.
Democrat lawmakers asked the governor to reconsider.
“Texas will experience more cases, more hospitalisations and more deaths,” state representative Richard Peña Raymond, told Mr Abbott in a letter on Monday.