Richmond Times-Dispatch

Rules loosened

Texas is biggest state to lift mask mandate.

- BY PAUL J. WEBER AND TAMMY WEBBER

Texas on Tuesday became the biggest state to lift its mask rule, joining a rapidly growing movement by governors and other leaders across the U.S. to loosen COVID-19 restrictio­ns despite pleas from health officials not to let their guard down yet.

The Lone Star State will also do away with limits on the number of diners who can be served indoors, said Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who made the announceme­nt at a restaurant in Lubbock.

“Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibi­lity,” said Abbott, speaking from a crowded dining room where many of those around him were not wearing masks. “It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed.”

The governors of Michigan, Mississipp­i and Louisiana likewise eased up on bars, restaurant­s and other businesses Tuesday, as did the mayor of

San Francisco.

A year into the crisis, politician­s and ordinary Americans alike have grown tired of rules meant to stem the spread of the coronaviru­s, which has killed over a half-million people in the United States. Some places are lifting infection control measures; in other places, people are ignoring them.

Top health officials, including the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have responded by begging people repeatedly not to risk another deadly wave of contagion just when the nation is making progress in vaccinatin­g people and victory over the outbreak is in sight.

U.S. cases have plunged more than 70% over the past two months from an average of nearly 250,000 new infections a day, while average deaths per day have plummeted about 40% since mid-January.

But the two curves have leveled off abruptly in the past several days and have even risen slightly, and the numbers are still running at alarmingly high levels, with an average of about 2,000 deaths and 68,000 cases per day. Health officials are increasing­ly worried about virus mutations.

“We stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned on Monday.

Even so, many Americans are sick of the shutdowns that have damaged their livelihood­s and

are eager to socialize again.

An Indianapol­is-area bar was filled with maskless patrons over the weekend. In Southern California, people waited in lines that snaked through a parking lot on a recent weekday afternoon for the chance to shop and eat at Downtown Disney, part of Disneyland. (The theme park’s rides remain closed.) And Florida is getting ready to welcome students on spring break.

In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed announced that California gave the green light to indoor dining and the reopening of movie theaters and gyms.

“You can enjoy your city, right here, right now,” she said from Fisherman’s Wharf, one of the city’s biggest tourist attraction­s. She added: “We are not where we need to be yet, but we’re getting there, San Francisco.”

Mississipp­i Gov. Tate Reeves said he is getting rid of most mask mandates and lifting most other restrictio­ns, including limits on seating in restaurant­s, starting Wednesday.

“The governor’s office is getting out of the business of telling people what they can and cannot do,” the Republican said.

Florida, which is getting ready for spring break travelers to flock to its sunny beaches, is considered to be in an “active outbreak,” along with Connecticu­t, Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and South Carolina, according to the datatracki­ng website CovidActNo­w.

Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis made it clear during his annual State of the State address Tuesday that he welcomes more visitors to Florida in his drive to keep the state’s economy thriving.

 ?? THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Joseph Butler (left) and Tasha Arevalo dined Tuesday in Houston. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday that state mask mandates are no longer needed.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Joseph Butler (left) and Tasha Arevalo dined Tuesday in Houston. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Tuesday that state mask mandates are no longer needed.

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