Updated at 5:55 p.m. with comment from Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said he is removing the county’s mask mandate after Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement Tuesday that the statewide order would end next week.
Whitley said that he made the decision to rescind the county’s order immediately to avoid confusion, but that he had hoped the governor would wait until after spring break.
“I don’t understand why if he’s announcing it today, why’s he waiting until next Wednesday to rescind it,” Whitley said. “So we’re going to go ahead and rescind as of today.”
The mask order has been in effect statewide since July, with local officials responsible for enforcement and penalties for not following it.
Pursuant to today’s announcement by Governor Abbott, I will immediately be rescinding my Executive Order requiring face coverings on businesses and their patrons. #TarrantCounty
— Tarrant County Judge – B. Glen Whitley (@judge_whitley) March 2, 2021
Whitley said when people hear that things are getting better, they tend to relax what they’ve been doing, and the county has seen previous spikes in COVID-19 cases after precautions have been lifted, he added.
“We’ll see what happens two or three weeks after spring break,” Whitley said.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said in a tweet that Abbott’s order Tuesday was “premature” and that Texans must continue to wear masks, wash their hands and practice social distancing.
She also urged the governor to increase the number of Texans eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, which are available only to front-line health care workers, residents of long-term care facilities, people over 65 years old or people over 16 years old with an underlying health condition.
The Fort Worth City Council canceled a planned vote to extend its citywide mask mandate Tuesday because Price said it was her understanding that it would no longer be able to issue a local mask order.
Whitley added that President Joe Biden has yet to rescind a federal mask mandate, which supersedes Abbott’s order and means that they may still be required in federal buildings and transit services, he said.
In light of the Governor’s Executive Order today, which I believe was premature, and an anticipated increase in vaccine supply in Texas in the coming weeks, two things are vital going forward. (1/4) pic.twitter.com/tvUI9zikEZ
— Betsy Price (@MayorBetsyPrice) March 2, 2021
Abbott also said Tuesday that businesses can open at full capacity starting next Wednesday but may limit occupancy or implement additional safety protocols at their discretion.
County judges will be able to impose their own coronavirus restrictions if COVID-19 hospitalizations rise above 15% in their region for seven straight days. But as of Tuesday, no area in Texas met that criteria, according to state data.
The region that includes Dallas and Tarrant Counties was at 8.7% as of Monday.
The governor said county judges may not impose penalties for not wearing a face mask and cannot limit occupancy restrictions to less than 50% capacity.
Abbott’s move faced pushback from other local officials and public health experts. While new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have fallen from a peak in January, levels of disease are still high. As of this week, about 5,600 people across Texas are hospitalized with the virus. The state has been averaging about 5,000 new cases per day over the last week.