Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Lynda M. Gonzalez-Pool/Getty Images
Gov. Greg Abbott said last year he regretted reopening bars too soon as Texas saw a surge in COVID-19 cases.
On Tuesday, he reopened Texas “100%” after the CDC recommended against rolling back restrictions.
The CDC has warned states not to reopen prematurely as coronavirus variants still spread.
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Last year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he regretted reopening bars too soon in the early months of the pandemic, which led to spikes of COVID-19 infections in the state.
“If I could’ve done anything differently it would’ve been to delay the opening of bars,” Abbott told local news outlet WFAA last June. “The opening of bars, if I recall correctly, was around the Memorial Day time period.”
“And in hindsight, that should’ve been delayed,” Abbott said, “especially now knowing how rapidly coronavirus could spread in the bar setting.”
Yet even as Texas has seen an average of 8,000 new COVID-19 cases in the last week – an uptick credited to conditions created by the devastating winter storms – the governor announced on Tuesday that he would be lifting the statewide mask mandate and reopening the state “100 percent.”
The reopening takes effect next Wednesday. It includes restaurants and bars.
“With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus,” Abbott said in a statement. “We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 percent.”
“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,” he continued.
In January, Texas was the first state to administer one million doses of the vaccine. The reopening announcement on Tuesday said that the state had reached nearly 5.7 million shots.
However, being the second largest state in the US, Texas is far from enough vaccinations to allow a safe and full reopening, according to Dr. Natasha Kathuria, an emergency medicine physician based in Texas who has expertise in public health and epidemiology.
“This is a very dangerous message that the governor is sending to Texans, that may have dire consequences,” Kathuria told Insider. “Only 7% of Texans have been fully vaccinated as of today, with about 13% receiving one dose.”
“That’s nowhere near the goal of 75%, which would achieve herd immunity.”
Abbott’s announcement comes a day after Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned states not to reopen prematurely as coronavirus variants continue to spread in communities.
“Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” Walensky said during a press briefing at the White House on Monday. “These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress.”
“Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.”
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