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Texas Drops Its Virus Restrictions as a Wave of Reopenings Takes Hold

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As coronavirus cases fall, states are rescinding mask mandates and reopening businesses and schools, prompting people to emerge after months of isolation despite uncertainty about the pandemic’s future.

As workers return to offices, restaurants reopen and children head back to school, Americans are hoping that reopenings are a sign of better months ahead. As workers return to offices, restaurants reopen and children head back to school, Americans are hoping that reopenings are a sign of better months ahead.Credit…Kim Raff for The New York Times

  • March 2, 2021

Texas said Tuesday that it was lifting its mask requirement and would allow businesses to fully reopen, the most expansive step by any state to remove coronavirus restrictions as Americans across the country are eager to emerge after a year of isolation in the pandemic.

The move by Texas, with its 29 million residents, goes further than similar actions in other states and cities that are rushing to ease as many limits as they can.

“It is now time to open Texas 100 percent,” Gov. Greg Abbott said, adding that “Covid has not suddenly disappeared,” but state mandates are no longer needed.

All around the country, governors and mayors are calibrating what is feasible, what is safe and what is politically practical.

In Chicago, tens of thousands of children returned to public school this week, while snow-covered parks and playgrounds around the city that have been shuttered since last March were opened. Mississippi ended its mask mandate, too. Restaurants in Massachusetts were allowed to operate without capacity limits, and South Carolina erased its limits on large gatherings. San Francisco announced that indoor dining, museums, movie theaters and gyms could reopen on a limited basis.

But federal health officials have worried that state and local leaders may be moving too fast.

“I know people are tired; they want to get back to life, to normal,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Monday. “But we’re not there yet.”

The divergent guidance has left many Americans in a quandary: wondering whether to follow the lure of optimism, as some officials in California, Michigan and North Carolina endorsed widespread reopenings of businesses and schools, or to heed their own lingering concerns about the virus and the warnings of federal health officials who have said it is premature to lift too many limits.

As Kitty Sherry, 36, sent her son, Jude, off to his Chicago elementary school this week for the first time in nearly a year, she felt caught in a middle ground between elation and worry.

“There’s a part of me that’s really excited that he’s back in school,” Ms. Sherry said. But she said she worried about the health risk to teachers, and said her family was still avoiding restaurants and other indoor spaces because of the pandemic. “It’s not over yet,” she said. “So there’s not too much celebrating.”

ImageTens of thousands of children returned to public school in Chicago this week. Tens of thousands of children returned to public school in Chicago this week.Credit…Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times, via Associated Press

Government officials have sent mixed, often cautious messages to the public. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser for Covid-19, said this week that for small groups of people who have all been fully vaccinated, there was low risk in gathering together at home. Activities beyond that, he said, would depend on data, modeling and “good clinical common sense,” adding that the C.D.C. would soon have guidance for what vaccinated people could do safely.

The message that many Americans are hearing from their elected officials, including leaders from both parties, is upbeat.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan said on Tuesday that she was easing restrictions on businesses and allowing family members who have tested negative for the coronavirus to visit nursing home residents. Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts said that while residents should continue to wear masks in public, it was time for more limits on businesses to be eased.

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In Kentucky, all but a handful of school districts are now offering in-person classes, while the state races to vaccinate teachers as quickly as possible. Gov. Andy Beshear told reporters last week that the state’s falling infection statistics showed that immunizations were beginning to make an impact.

“It means vaccinations work,” he said. “We’re already seeing it. We’re seeing it in these numbers. It’s a really positive sign.”

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