Harris County Lina Hidalgo said the timing of Abbott's executive order—announced just two weeks after the statewide power grid failure—was concerning.
“Taking away critical public health interventions that we know are working won’t make our community safer, nor will it hasten our return to normalcy," Hidalgo said in a statement March 2. "Quite the opposite, every time public health measures have been pulled back, we’ve seen a spike in hospitalizations. If we start the climb now, we’d be starting from the highest starting point ever when it comes to our hospital population, an unacceptable and dangerous proposition. With the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, we’re inching closer to the finish line of this pandemic—now is not the time to reverse the gains we’ve worked so hard to achieve. At best, today’s decision is wishful thinking. At worst, it is a cynical attempt to distract Texans from the failures of state oversight of our power grid.”
Like Hidalgo, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he believed the order goes against the current guidance of local health authorities.
“The governor is wrong to roll back the statewide mask order which is not supported by the medical professionals, science or data," Turner said in a statement March 2. "The Texas Legislature must speak up and the people of Texas must hold their leaders accountable. 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 minimizes the sacrifices of people and businesses. I just don’t get it. Is the governor’s statement today an attempt to deflect from the winter storm systemwide state leadership failure? Yes.”
Hidalgo's and Turner's statements are in stark contrast to the reaction of neighboring Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, who said he was pleased by the announcement.
At the federal level, U.S. legislators who represent the Greater Houston area have also voiced their opinions on the matter.
“Governor Abbott’s decision to lift the statewide mask mandate is the wrong one," U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Houston said in a statement March 2. "We have made progress in our fight against COVID-19, but the virus remains a very real threat for all Texans. Just this week, Houston became the first city in the country to record every major strain of the novel coronavirus. Now is not the time to reduce proven methods to stop the spread of the virus. We are working to bring federal resources to Texas, including two FEMA mass vaccination sites. Governor Abbott’s decision undermines these important efforts to keep our communities safe. I urge all Houstonians to continue to wear masks and follow guidelines to stop the spread.”
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, also spoke out against Abbott's decision in a March 3 tweet.
1/5 I am more than disappointed and, in fact, stunned by the removal of the COVID-19 mandates in the State of Texas that has for many weeks been a hot spot for COVID-19. These are the numbers that are real: 504,499 deaths in the United States, 46,738 currently hospitalized, and
— Sheila Jackson Lee (@JacksonLeeTX18) March 3, 2021
While U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, has not released an official statement as of press time March 3, he replied to a tweet by Turner on March 2 in which he seemed to express support for Abbott's order.
God forbid we simply put out guidance on mask wearing instead of threatening to fine or jail you. https://t.co/99QhCHJX6Y
— Dan Crenshaw (@DanCrenshawTX) March 3, 2021
As of March 2, Harris County and the city of Houston have a combined total of 19,262 active COVID-19 cases, according to the Harris County Public Health COVID-19 dashboard. Although coronavirus case counts are trending downward from their previous peak in January, local health care providers said it is not the time to stop taking precautions.
“Today Gov. Greg Abbott announced he was lifting the mandatory mask mandate for the state on March 10 as the number of COVID-19 infections continues to decrease. While the downward trend is a great milestone for our community, we must not forget the necessity of continuing to protect ourselves, our families, our friends and our neighbors," Houston Methodist President and CEO Dr. Marc Boom said in a statement March 2. "As the governor said, withdrawing the mandate does not mean withdrawing your personal responsibility to wear a mask. Even if it is not mandated, as a health care professional I urge all Texans to wear our masks until enough of our community is vaccinated that we approach herd immunity. Besides being vaccinated, wearing a mask is the most effective way to keep infections down and begin to return to normal. We strongly encourage you to make the personal decision to keep wearing your mask. Because when we do the right thing, we can stop the spread together.”
Similarly, officials with CHI St. Luke's Health, which operates multiple health care facilities throughout the Greater Houston area, released the following statement in response to Abbott's order:
“The COVID-19 virus and its effects will be with us for a long time. To ensure the safety and health of our communities, we urge people to continue to wear masks and practice other precautions like hand washing and social distancing, in addition to getting vaccinated. Wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to limit the spread of the virus, which is why masks are still required at all St. Luke’s Health facilities.”
As it is still unclear how the order will affect schools, Greater Houston-area public school districts are awaiting further guidance from the Texas Education Agency, which officials have said is forthcoming.
Statement from the Texas Education Agency:
“Governor Abbott’s Executive Order (GA-34) takes effect next Wed., March 10, 2021. Updated public health guidance from TEA will be coming this week.”
— Texas Education Agency (@teainfo) March 2, 2021