Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that he will repeal a statewide mask mandate and restrictions on businesses related to the coronavirus pandemic beginning next week.

Mandates and restrictions will end March 17, the governor announced during a luncheon with the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce.

“It is now time to open Texas 100%,” he said.

The repeal of restrictions applies to all types of businesses, including bars, which were forced to operate under restaurant licenses and restrictions during the pandemic.

“For nearly half a year most, businesses have been open at 75% or 50% and during that time too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities. Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills,” Abbott said.

Abbott’s move immediately drew sharp condemnation from Democrats.

“What Abbott calls pro-business is anti-people. Make no mistake: opening Texas prematurely will only lead to faster COVID spread, more sickness and overcrowding in our hospitals, and unnecessary deaths,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in an email. “There is no economic recovery without beating the coronavirus pandemic. This will set us back, not move us forward.”

Though the state government will no longer have restrictions, businesses and counties may impose their own policies. Counties may not limit business occupancy to less than 50%, he said. Some businesses around the nation voluntarily implemented policies on masks before Abbott issued a statewide mask mandate.

Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce CEO C. Wayne Mitchell expects “a very cautious opening on the part of most businesses.”

“The governor left it up the discretion of businesses on how they react to his statement today. I think it’s going to be very interesting,” Mitchell said.

Abbott stressed personal responsibility but said they state should no longer be required to mandate the public’s reaction.

“Despite these changes remember this. Removing state mandates does not end personal responsibility or the importance of caring for your family members, caring for your friends and others in our community,” Abbott said.

Mitchell expected to hear from more businesses leaders late Tuesday and into Wednesday to gauge local reactions.

“Let’s pray the trend continues to go in a positive direction as far as hospitalizations and fatalities. I hope we see continued positive signs that we’re getting a grip on this thing,” he said.

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