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As Texas governor lifts state mask mandate, here’s what we know

Gov. Greg Abbott last week announced he would be loosening restrictions meant to stop the spread of Covid-19, including doing away with the mask requirement and allowing all businesses to reopen 100% since active Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations were down to levels not seen in months.

“Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities. Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills. This must end. It is now time to open Texas 100%,” he said.

Critics of the decision said it was too soon, since only a small percentage of the state’s population had been vaccinated — less than 7% at the time — and aggressively spreading variants of the virus may lead to another explosion of cases.

And several of the states’ largest cities — including the capital, Austin — as well as counties and businesses have said they will still require masks when Abbott’s mandate is lifted.

Here’s what we know is going on in the Lone Star State as the statewide mask mandate is lifted.

Some cities and businesses will still require masks

Austin Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Escott announced Tuesday that masks will still be required in the city when the statewide mandate is lifted.

“In Austin, we’re committed to saving lives, period,” said city council member Greg Casar. “If state officials don’t want to do their jobs protecting people from the virus, then we will.”

Austin City Council passed an ordinance last year allowing the health authority to establish public health mandates and Texas state law allows cities to create their own health rules, according to Tara Pohlmeyer, the communications director for Casar.

The city’s mask mandate and other health rules remain in place through April 15, when they may be extended.

Other cities have said masks must still be worn on city properties and facilities, including Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and El Paso.

“People are still getting infected and individuals are still dying because of the virus,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday. “Today the city of Houston’s positivity rate is 13.1%, which is up from last week. So instead of going down it’s kind of creeping right back up.”

And retailers, grocery chains, pharmacies and automakers, including Target, Kroger, CVS, Walgreens, Best Buy, Macy’s, JCPenney, Toyota, GM and others, say masks will still be required at their stores and facilities by both employees and customers.
Of course, masks will still be required on federal property in Texas, since President Joe Biden made that mandatory in January, as well as on public transportation.

Planned celebrations and mask burnings

Even after the mask mandate falls away, Abbott encouraged residents to “continue to practice the safe practices that will ensure we will be able to get everybody back to work with Texas continuing to lead the United States of America in economic growth and job creation.”

That message may have been lost on some.

Members of a conservative group plan to gather Wednesday night to celebrate the first day of the reopening with a bonfire and the option for attendees to throw their masks into the flames, according to event organizer Benji Gershon, president of the Dallas Jewish Conservatives.

The event, set to take place outside at a private residence in the Dallas suburb of Parker, will feature live music, drinks, and conservative speakers including Shelley Luther, the Dallas salon owner who became a conservative icon after serving jail time last spring for refusing to shut down her business during the lockdown.

'It's too soon for it': Small business owners react to Texas dropping mask mandate

The event isn’t an “anti-mask event,” according to Gershon, who said he has lost family members and friends to Covid-19. It’s about “celebrating the fact that we can make choices for ourselves. We don’t have to rely on government to make our own choices,” he said.

“It’s all about taking the shackles of governments off of your back and saying, listen, I can make my own decisions for myself,” he said. “We don’t have to have the government telling us how to live our lives.”

The mask-burning segment is a “purely symbolic” gesture to celebrate personal freedom, he said. Organizers plan to hold a moment of silence to memorialize those who’ve died, he said.

As of Monday night, about 300 guests were registered to attend, according to Gershon.

Dallas Jewish Conservatives is partnering up with other conservative groups in the area to put on the event, he said.

In Houston, a “Mask Off” party planned for Wednesday night at the bar Concrete Cowboy has been canceled, Mayor Turner said.

That’s after civic leaders gathered for a news conference Sunday to urge the bar not to go ahead with it.

Turner read from an email from the owner that said: “It was never our intention to host a party where we encourage patrons to not wear a mask.”

“We will always place health and safety ahead of profits,” the email read, according to Turner, and “we are not only canceling the party, but we will also not open Concrete Cowboy Wednesday night, to prevent any exposure to COVID-19.”

CNN has reached out to the venue multiple times regarding its plans for Wednesday night, but has not received a response.

Turner acknowledged that when the mask mandate is gone, businesses are faced with a tough choice.

“The order that the governor put forth puts them in a bad situation because it now places the onus of trying to, how can I say, police and protect their customers and patrons from getting the virus,” Turner said. “It puts them in a very bad and difficult situation, I understand that.”

CNN’s Keith Allen, Deanna Hackney and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.

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