Texas, Mississippi lift Covid restrictions and mask mandates, despite CDC warnings

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Greg Abbott, governor of Texas, speaks during an Operation Warp Speed vaccine summit at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020.

Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The governors of Texas and Mississippi both announced Tuesday that they are lifting statewide mask mandates and allowing businesses to reopen at full capacity even as the decline of daily Covid-19 cases slows and federal officials urge states to exercise caution.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a press briefing at Montelongo’s Mexican Restaurant in Lubbock that he will issue a new executive order that rescinds most of his previous Covid-19 restrictions, including a statewide mask mandate. He added that all businesses would be allowed to open “100 percent,” effective March 10.

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

“It is now time to open Texas 100 percent,” he added.

At roughly the same time as Abbott’s remarks, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced at a separate press briefing that he is rescinding all county mask mandates and removing statewide restrictions on nearly all businesses.

“I am replacing our current orders with recommendations,” Reeves said. “The only rules that will remain in this order are a capacity limit of 50% on indoor arenas and those that govern K-12 schools.”

Both announcements come shortly after federal officials, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, warned state officials against lifting public health restrictions too quickly.

Walensky said Monday at a White House Covid-19 briefing that while daily new cases have been falling rapidly since the peak in January, the decline appears to be levelling off at a worryingly high rate of infection. She added that the spread of new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus are a new threat that could undo the nation’s progress, even as vaccines roll out.

“At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” she said. “With these statistics, I am really worried about more states rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from Covid-19.”

“Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” she said.

— CNBC’s Berkeley Lovelace Jr. contributed to this report.

This is breaking news. Check back here for updates.

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