Houston-area leaders react to governor’s lifting of capacity limits, mask mandate

HOUSTON – Houston leaders responded Tuesday to the governor’s announcement on reopening Texas 100% and ending the statewide mask mandate during the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 500,000 Americans since the start of the outbreak in the nation.

Both Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester expressed how disappointed they are with Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision, while others agreed with the decision.

‘This decision was wrong’: Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner reacts

Turner was in the middle of a city council meeting when he received messages of the announcement.

“Let me just say, this is the wrong direction for the state of Texas and this decision needs to be criticized and condemn in every part of the state,” he said. “We are still in the midst of dealing with this coronavirus. The variants are still out there. Less than 10 to 15% of the people in the state of Texas have been vaccinated.”

Turner said Houston is a long way from immunity and stated as of Tuesday, there are 1,200 people in the hospital in the area. He said although the number is going down, the city is still not where it was in September-October.

“The positivity rate in the city of Houston a little over 11%. We are still not where we should be, 5% or below -- and staying there,” the mayor said. “There is no medically justifiable reason or scientific reason for businesses in the state of Texas to be operating 100%. And certainly, there is no reason, no justifiable medical reason for the statewide mask order to be dropped.”

Turner addressed the ending of the mask mandate, saying the masks represent the protections that were desperately needed until people receive the vaccine.

“Until people can get the vaccine, these masks represent the protections that are so desperately needed,” Turner said. “This is the wrong policy decision for the people in the state of Texas on multiple levels.”

The mayor said Abbott’s measures will make it difficult for local leaders to protect their people within their jurisdictions because the messages are conflicting.

“We’re saying, ‘keep your masks on.’ The governor, state leadership is saying, ‘you can take your masks off,’” Turner said. “And it will be very difficult to govern and protect people in the state of Texas. I can’t even explain the justification for this decision and why.”

The mayor also criticized state legislators, state senators and representatives for not speaking up and standing up. He said he hopes they will not be silent on the governor’s decisions.

“Since the governor has made this decision, let me speak to our state representatives and state senators. It is time for the state representatives and state senators to step -- to stand up. It’s time for our legislatures to raise their voices and speak up,” Turner said. “It’s time for state senators to speak up. That’s why that storm happened two weeks ago because the legislators didn’t do its job. That’s why people have busted water pipes because the legislator didn’t do its job. And it’s not about asking ERCOT members to resign or the chair of PUC to resign ... who do they report to? They report to your governor, lieutenant governor and your speaker and your state senators.”

Turner said there comes a point where those leaders also need to look into resigning from their positions because they are “the captain of the ship.”

The mayor held another press conference around 3:30 p.m. Tuesday asking, “Why must Texas always be in the national news for making decisions that go contrary to science and the medical professionals and data?”

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo says move is ‘premature’

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo speaks about the decision of Gov. Abbott to lift business capacity limits and the mask mandate.

Both Hidalgo and Turner jointly signed a letter to Abbott, asking him to keep the mask mandate in place.

In the Tuesday letter, Hidalgo and Turner said they believe lifting the mandate would be “premature and harmful” to the progress made in the pandemic thus far.

“Especially with the arrival of new variants of the virus to Texas and our cities, with the associated potential for a future spoke in cases, preserving the most effective of our existing safety measures is even more important,” the leaders wrote.

Houston health officials announced Monday that wastewater testing has revealed an increasing amount of COVID-19 variants in the city with the U.K. version becoming the primary variant being detected.

Hidalgo echoed the concerns raised in the letter during a news conference held after Abbott’s announcement.

“We shouldn’t play with lives in this way, because, what I’m afraid of, is when people see this rescinding of public health interventions, of public health guidelines and restrictions, what they’re going to hear is that there’s an all-clear,” Hidalgo said. “What I want to say, very directly, is that’s not the case. That’s not the case.”

You can read a copy of the letter in the tweet below.

‘‘Very pleased’: Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough reacts

County Judge Mark Keough released a statement in a video posted on Facebook, saying how pleased he is with the governor’s decision.

“If you’re like me, you ought to be please with that the governor just told us about opening up business, about taking away the mask mandates and the rest. We are so happy and thank you for finally doing that,” he said.

My statement regarding Governor Abbott’s lifting of mandates in Texas and how Montgomery County will continue to operate.

Posted by Mark Keough County Judge on Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Fort Bend County Judge KP George reacts

County Judge KP George said he will listen to the doctors, facts and science to help end the pandemic, despite the governor reopening Texas 100%. George is encouraging residents to continue wearing masks during the pandemic.

He even praised the leadership of HEB for requiring its partners and vendors to wear their masks while at work and urging customers to do the same.

“Even the Texas Department of Health led by an Abbott appointee asks you to wear a mask to protect your loved ones. We will listen to the doctors, the facts, and the science and end this pandemic once and for all. You cannot unmask the truth no matter how hard you try,” he tweeted.

George called Abbott out in a series of tweets, one stating, “After the Governor got vaccinated, he removed mask protections for all Texans. This is a pattern of distraction and danger while millions are still in line to get the vaccine.”

He said the state of Texas needs better leadership and that Abbott is playing politics with the lives of Texans.

“We are barely recovering from Gov. Abbott-led failures of ERCOT & the PUC which led millions of Texans to suffer without heat & water. Disaster after disaster, Gov. Abbott is doing what he does best - playing politics with the lives of Texans. We need better leadership NOW,” he tweeted.

About the Author:

Award-winning journalist, mother, YouTuber, social media guru, millennial, mentor, storyteller, University of Houston alumna and Houston-native.