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Reaction Is Mixed To Texas Decision To Lift Coronavirus Restrictions

NOEL KING, HOST:

Texas Governor Greg Abbott is ending coronavirus restrictions in his state. He announced this at a restaurant in Lubbock, where he also said businesses should reopen a week from today, quote, "100%." Now, this is exactly what the CDC has said not to do - end these public health measures early. Sarah Self-Walbrick is a senior reporter at Texas Tech Public Media, and she was there covering the announcement. Hi, Sarah.

SARAH SELF-WALBRICK, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: Practically, what does this mean for Texans?

SELF-WALBRICK: So Governor Abbott said that starting next week, businesses will be able to open at full capacity, and masks will no longer be required. He says he wants businesses and other entities to make those decisions. So, for example, supermarket chain HEB has already announced that they won't require customers to wear masks in their stores. So Abbott says people should still do what protects them but is rescinding the statewide mandate. So here's what he had to say yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG ABBOTT: Personal vigilance to follow the safe standards is still needed to contain COVID. It's just that now state mandates are no longer needed.

KING: But did he explain why now?

SELF-WALBRICK: Data suggests that things are looking up across Texas, at least when it comes to COVID. Hospitalizations are down even in regions like Laredo and El Paso that have seen the worst of it. But vaccinations have gotten off to a really slow start here. Texas is obviously a big, populous state, but less than 7% of the population is fully vaccinated right now, which is one of the lowest percentages in the country.

KING: So you have mixed news - cases going down but vaccinations going slowly. How are people reacting to Abbott's announcement?

SELF-WALBRICK: It's definitely been mixed. So based on what I've seen on social media, I think a lot of people see this as a political move, especially after the fallout of the winter storm that thousands of Texans are still dealing with. I talked with a few Lubbockites after the announcement yesterday. Because the mask mandate wasn't well enforced anyway, Dr. Craig Rhyne with Covenant Health says rescinding the mask order may not do much, and he hopes that common sense prevails.

CRAIG RHYNE: I think that the people that have grown accustomed to wearing a mask and have gotten a sense of safety and security from wearing a mask will probably continue to do exactly that.

SELF-WALBRICK: Chris Berry owns a local restaurant and is president of the Lubbock Restaurant Association. He hopes Abbott's announcement will lead to higher consumer confidence.

CHRIS BERRY: If everyone feels more comfortable in getting out and going out to eat and getting back to, quote-unquote, "normal life," that's what we're looking forward to. And that's what we anticipate.

KING: OK, that's how many businesses, I would imagine, might feel. But I'm curious about medical workers, the people who work on the front lines. Did you talk to any of them?

SELF-WALBRICK: I have. So I heard from one woman in particular, Kristi Giemza, who's a nurse practitioner who's been volunteering at Lubbock's COVID vaccination hub.

KRISTI GIEMZA: I have a hard time believing the governor is taking advice from medical experts. He's putting lives and our economy at risk yet again.

KING: Sarah Self-Walbrick, senior reporter with Texas Tech Public Media in Lubbock. Thank you, Sarah.

SELF-WALBRICK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.