Several prominent Democrats in the state responded with language similar to former congressman Beto O’Rourke, saying Abbott’s policy was a “death warrant for Texans,” and President Joe Biden likened the change to “neanderthal thinking.”
The change means Texas will soon have some of the laxest COVID-19 restrictions in the country — especially with power to enforce strict regulations largely stripped from local governments unless hospitalizations rise again.
But prior to the policy change, Abbott’s orders in response to the coronavirus have been some of the strictest among Republican-led states.
Several states never issued a mask mandate and implemented only minor lockdown policies, a handful of states lifted their mask mandates before Texas, and the Lone Star State ranked 28th for reopening according to an analysis from MultiState, a state and local government relations company.
The 11 states to never issue a mask mandate are Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Tennessee.
Additionally, the states of North Dakota, Iowa, Montana, and Mississippi all lifted their mask mandates before Texas.
However, many local governments and private businesses in the states listed above have required face coverings.
Notably, like in Abbott’s new order, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis began prohibiting local governments from issuing fines for mask violations last fall.
All of the states that have already lifted or gone without a mask mandate are led by Republican governors, while states with Democratic governors all still have face covering requirements in place.
Democrats led the way in initially implementing the mask mandates, too, with states like New York and Hawaii issuing the requirement last April.
Also in April last year, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan was the first Republican to issue a state mask mandate, which he later expanded in July.
But the second Republican governor to issue a mask mandate was Abbott.
Issued on July 2, Texas’ mask mandate came before the seven Democratic governors had yet to issue a mask mandate, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer who has been lauded by liberals and chided by conservatives for having among the most stringent coronavirus responses.
With regard to reopenings, until his announcement last week, Abbott had taken a largely middle-of-the-road approach as well.
While he was sharply criticized by the left when he announced the first “phase” of reopening ahead of May 1 last year, the rollout to a full reopening has been a much longer process.
As of the time of writing, Texas ranks as the state with the 28th highest “openness score” according to an analysis from MultiState, which takes into account 11 factors such as restrictions on restaurants, bars, and gyms.
Under the current regulations before Abbott’s full reopening goes into effect on Wednesday, Texas has an openness score of 62 out of 100.
The top-ranked states of Alaska, Florida, and North Dakota each have openness scores of 96.
Currently, only three states with Republican governors rank on par or lower than Texas — West Virginia, Maryland, and Vermont.
And four Democrat-led states rank on par or higher than Texas — Kansas, Maine, Wisconsin, and North Carolina.
Bill Kramer, MultiState’s vice president of policy, told The Texan that once Abbott’s new order goes into effect on Wednesday, the Lone Star State will have an openness score of 93, putting it just below the top-ranked states and just above Arkansas and South Dakota, currently rated with a score of 92.
“The reason for the sub-100 score is that the state will still allow county-level governments to impose capacity restrictions on businesses,” said Kramer. “Local government authority to implement their own restrictions more strict than the state is one of the 11 factors that feed into the final score.”
Under Abbott’s order, if a county is in a trauma service area with coronavirus hospitalizations tallying above 15 percent of the region’s total hospital capacity, then county judges can implement stricter orders.
However, those orders cannot restrict businesses to a capacity below 50 percent or implement a fine along with a mask requirement.