LUBBOCK, Texas — Updated at 3:34 p.m. to include reaction from Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.
Gov. Greg Abbott is rescinding statewide face mask orders and reopening all businesses starting next Wednesday.
Abbott made the announcement Tuesday afternoon, saying that any type of business is allowed to reopen 100%. Businesses are still allowed to implement capacity limits or safety protocols.
"Businesses don't need the state to tell them how to operate," Abbott said.
If COVID-19 hospitalizations stay above 15% for seven straight days, a county judge may use mitigation strategies in their county, such as face masks. Judges may not enforce penalties for countywide face mask restrictions, Abbott said.
"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," Abbott said.
Now is the right time for Texas to be fully reopened, Abbott said, because Texas has the ability to administer over 100,000 COVID-19 tests per day and there are antibody treatments. He said as of Tuesday, the state has under a 9% positivity rate.
More vaccines are coming to the state, including the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine. By next Wednesday, there will have been 7 million shots administered to Texans, the governor said.
"By the end of this month, every senior who wants a vaccine shot will be able to get a vaccine shot," Abbott said.
He also said that within a few months, every Texan who wants a vaccine shot will be able to get a vaccine shot.
Health experts, including a member of the statewide task force, a UNT epidemiologist and the past president of the Dallas County Medical Society, told WFAA last week now is not the time to relax restrictions.
Stephen Love, the president/CEO of the DFW Hospital Council, said that removing the mask mandate "is very unfortunate."
"The COVID-19 virus with variants is still here and we have not achieved herd immunity," Love said. "This decision will cause the community spread to increase, forcing our exhausted healthcare heroes to diagnose, treat and save the lives of newly infected patients."
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins also called the decision "unfortunate."
"It's unfortunate that on a day we record 25 deaths, which takes us above 3,000 [COVID-19] deaths for Dallas County since COVID began nearly a year ago, the governor has removed all of the state orders that he designed to protect you and the people that you care about from contracting COVID," the judge said. "But for us here in North Texas, and for all Texans, we need to focus not on what the governor tells you the law allows, but on what doctors and the facts and the science that we all know well at this point tell us is necessary to keep us safe and give us our best chance of reaching herd immunity as quickly as possible."
The most recent report from UT Southwestern says that mask usage in North Texas remains very high.
While COVID-19 case and hospitalization numbers have been ticking down recently, declines are starting to plateau, according to federal officials and UT Southwestern models.
Cases and hospitalizations still remain very high, close to the high levels reached in the summer months last year.
Abbott said earlier Tuesday that the state had reported a new daily record number of people receiving vaccines: more than 216,000 Texans a day, with 1 million vaccines going out each week.
But there is some important context to that. While Texas’ 7-day average of vaccinations is the highest it’s been, the state ranks last in the country in doses administered per person, according to the CDC.
State officials had previously said they would announce at some point in March what groups of Texans would be included under Phase 1C of vaccine distribution.
More than 3.5 million Texans have so far received at least one shot of the vaccine, with 1.8 million fully vaccinated. But the state estimates there are still around 13 million people who are currently eligible to get the shot.
UT Southwestern says the increased compliance with social distancing, face mask wearing, hand hygiene and restricting crowds is necessary to ensure there is still enough capacity in healthcare systems, especially as the more contagious variant which was first identified in the United Kingdom is confirmed to be circulating in Texas, including Dallas.
“If any of the more highly transmissible variants become entrenched in North Texas, they could substantially change the long-term trends in our region,” the report says. “Maintaining our current levels of compliance with prevention measures will help us continue the downward trajectory of cases in North Texas.”
Texas timeline: COVID-19 and reopening
March 9, 2020: First case of COVID-19 in North Texas was detected in a Frisco father in his 30s. He traveled to California for a business trip at the end of February where he came in contact with someone who had contracted the novel coronavirus.
March 12, 2020: Dallas County officials banned gatherings of more than 500 people starting March 13. At the time, 13 people were infected in North Texas.
March 19, 2020: Texans are asked to avoid social gatherings and groups of more than 10 people after Gov. Greg. Abbott issued an executive order.
The order also closed all schools, bars, dine-in restaurants, and gyms. He also said staffing at workplaces should be limited and encouraged working remotely.
March 24, 2020: Variations of “stay at home” orders are issued in Collin, Denton, Dallas and Tarrant counties.
March 31, 2020: Gov. Abbott issues an executive order that only allows Texans to leave their homes for essential activities. The order lasted through April 30.
April 3, 2020: President Donald Trump announces new federal guidelines recommending that Americans wear face coverings when in public. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued similar guidance.
April 17, 2020: In his reopening guidelines, Gov. Greg Abbott announced retail businesses could sell items to-go, via a drive-thru set up or delivery, starting Friday, April 24, Abbott said.
April 27, 2020: Gov. Greg Abbott says retail stores, restaurants, theaters, and malls can reopen May 1 with 25% occupancy.
May 5, 2020: Hair salons, barbershops, tanning salons, and nail salons could reopen on May 8.
June 3, 2020: Capacity is expanded to 50% for most Texas businesses. Bars, gyms and indoor wedding venues are limited to 25%.
June 12, 2020: Restaurants can expand to 75%.
June 26, 2020: Abbott scaled back reopening plans after cases and hospitalizations rise. He closed bars and reduced capacity at restaurants.
July 2, 2020: Abbott issued a statewide order to require all Texans to wear face masks if they lived in counties that had more than 20 cases.
Sept. 17, 2020: Hospitals in 19 regions can return to performing elective procedures.
Sept. 24, 2020: Eligible nursing homes, assisted living facilities and long-term care facilities will be able to designate up to two essential family caregivers for visitation.
Oct. 14, 2020: County judges can opt-in to allow bars to reopen for the first time since June, Abbott says.
Dec. 2, 2020: Restaurant capacity in North Texas to be reduced from 75% to 50% due to an executive order. The region reported its seventh straight day with COVID-19 patients making up at least 15% of the hospitals' total capacity.
Non-essential businesses like gyms and retail stores in the area also had to abide by this order.
Dec. 14, 2020: An environment services worker who cleans the emergency room at Methodist Dallas Medical Center was the first person in Texas to receive Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.
WFAA Reporter William Joy contributed to this report.