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Rio Grande Valley public officials react to Gov. Abbott's order ending Texas mask mandate

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Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday that he is ending the statewide mask mandate and businesses can open at 100% capacity, effective Wednesday, March 10, 2021.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services over 42,000 Texans have died due to the coronavirus as of Tuesday, March 2.

Here's how public officials and organizations in the Rio Grande Valley and across the state are reacting to Gov. Abbott's executive order ending the state's mask mandate. 

Rio Grande Valley Officials

Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez:

"I appreciate Governor Abbott's desire to return to normalcy, but I remain concerned that, at least in Hidalgo County, we may be moving too quickly," Cortez said in a news release. "We only fell below the high hospitalization threshold a week ago, which suggests we are on the right path in combating the spread of this disease, but I would hate to see a rise in case numbers if people begin to relax caution – particularly as it relates to the removal of the mask mandate."

Mission Mayor Dr. Armando O’Caña:

"I fully understand the need and the desire to reopen, but our hospitalizations just began to decrease and vaccinations are still in the early stages. While everyone can agree that the precautionary measures taken by the community have been working, the virus is still here," O’Caña said in a news release. "I know the numbers are a little more favorable, but every day we are adding to the number of people testing positive for COVID-19. The key to stopping the community spread of the coronavirus in Mission is to continue following guidelines like social distancing, wearing masks, good hygiene and testing. As of today, all City facilities will continue to require masks for staff and visitors. That includes every City of Mission building, including the CEED (Center for Economic Development), our Greater Mission Chamber of Commerce and any facilities leased by the City."

Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez:

"My gut response was, 'oh no, here we go again,'" Melendez said during an interview. "As your public health authority, this is not an opinion, this is not a theory, this is certainly not a political position. It's just a fact. When people do not socially distance and do not use masks, the numbers dramatically increase."

Melendez said when Gov. Abbott loosened restrictions last May, Hidalgo County went from 13 deaths in five weeks to 50 deaths per day, a month later.

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera:

"While I appreciate Governor Abbott's desire to attempt to return to normalcy, I remain deeply concerned that in Starr County the decision comes too soon,” Starr County Judge Eloy Vera said in a press release. “We have only recently begun to see some reduction in infection rates and fallen below the high hospitalization threshold a week ago. We ask all of our residents to continue to wear masks and practice social distancing and hope our local businesses continue to adhere to capacity and safety protocols that protect their employees and patrons. I strongly encourage our Starr County businesses to continue to operate at the current 75% capacity and require the use of m asks for everyone until the majority of our residents are vaccinated.

We are confident that together we are on the right path in combating the spread of this disease, but any misconceptions or false confidence in particular as it relates to the removal of the mask mandate could prove deadly in our community. The road is long, but we can get there together."

Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr.:

"I'm concerned that this sends a message that we're OK and that you don't have to do the things that have gotten us to this point," Treviño said in an interview. "Which is wearing your mask, socially distant, avoiding crowds and practicing personal hygiene.  

Texas Democratic Chair Gilberto Hinojosa 

"It's insanity. It is the most reckless thing that any public official could do under the circumstances. I mean, only 6.9 percent of the population of the state of Texas has been vaccinated. You're going to have thousands of kids going to the island here in Cameron County and they're going to go to the bars, shoulder to shoulder, because the governor said you don't have to wear them anymore."

Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina

“The City will continue to implement the same safety protocols it has in the past. We ask that our citizens continue to practice social distancing and wear their facial coverings when attending City events,” Molina said.

State Officials

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick Statement:

“The Texas economy is coming back stronger than ever and Governor Greg Abbott’s announcement today will help us restore the livelihoods of millions of Texas even faster. Texas has proved what I have said throughout this long year of the pandemic — we can do two things at once  — maintain our economy and fight COVID-19. Today, Texas is one step closer to a return to normalcy."

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen:

"As the vaccine is rolled out, we should not let our guard down. Hospitalization rates have been dropping because of many factors, including that we as a community have been mitigating potential exposure to COVID-19 by wearing masks, limiting capacity at bars and restaurants and practicing social distancing," Gonzalez said in a news release. "I want our economy in Texas to thrive, but we cannot do that at the expense of our public health. This decision is premature and I hope businesses lead by taking the health and safety of other Texans seriously with the implementation of this new executive order next week.”

Organizations

Texas Education Agency (TEA):

"On March 2, 2021, Governor Abbott issued Executive Order GA-34 which addresses the statewide wearing of face coverings (i.e., masks), which takes effect March 10, 2021. TEA’s authority to implement operational requirements for public schools remains in effect (e.g., TEA’s Public Health Guidance). 

As a result of the lifting of the order on masks, TEA has updated its Public Health Guidance. Under this updated guidance, a public school system’s current practices on masks may continue unchanged. Local school boards have full authority to determine their local mask policy.

TEA has also made updates related to surface cleaning requirements."

Nonprofit Media Organization Progress Texas:

"Every time Gov. Greg Abbott rushes to open the state, things end up getting worse,” Ed Espinoza, executive director at Progress Texas said in a news release. “We all want things to get back to normal, but Abbott’s inability to lead harms the state’s response to the pandemic just as it harmed that state’s response to the Texas freeze. We shouldn’t have to fill ICU beds in order to fulfill Abbott’s political agenda. Texans must continue to take COVID-19 seriously and wear masks as the pandemic is far from over.” 

The Associated of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE):

"The largest educator association in Texas— believes that ending the statewide mask mandate is the wrong move at the wrong time. Ending mask requirements now will serve only to needlessly endanger Texas citizens at a critical moment in our collective battle against the COVID-19 pandemic."

Texas State Teacher Association:

"Gov. Abbott needs to quit obeying his political impulses and listen to the health experts, who are warning that it is too soon to let our guard down without risking potentially disastrous consequences. The experts caution us to continue the safety practices that have worked against this disease, including widespread mask use and social distancing. The Texas State Teachers Association urges the governor to keep his mask mandate in place, especially in our public schools, and see that it is enforced. We also repeat our call for the governor to give teachers and other school employees priority for the COVID vaccine."

Texas House Democratic Caucus:

“Masks work to slow the spread of COVID-19, plain and simple. The fastest way we can all get back to normal is to listen to the director of the CDC, who just said that 'now is not the time to relax restrictions,'" Texas House Democratic Caucus Chair Chris Turner said in a news release. "If the last year has taught us anything, it is that we need to listen to doctors and scientists more, not less. Unfortunately, Governor Abbot is desperate to distract from his recent failures during the winter storm and is trying to change the subject." 

Texas Association of Business (TAB):

“Today’s decision will unleash the full might of the Texas economy and create more and better-paying jobs for hardworking Texans. Furthermore, this will lead to a full economic recovery not only for our state, but the entire country, and TAB applauds the Governor’s announcement today.”  

Texas Faculty Association

“We all look forward to a future when we can return to ‘normal,’ but that time isn’t here yet,” said TFA President Pat Heintzelman, an instructor at Lamar University in Beaumont. “By repealing the statewide mask mandate prematurely and against the advice of health experts, Gov. Abbott is jeopardizing the health and lives of countless Texans, including many students, teachers and staff on higher education campuses.”

“We call on the governor to keep the mask mandate in place for higher education institutions, at least until more COVID vaccines arrive and every college and university employee who wants a vaccine can get one,” she added.

Editor's Note: This is a developing story, check back for updates.

Last update: March 4 @ 5:06 p.m.

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