Here are things to know for Thursday, March 4:
1. ‘Neanderthal thinking’: Biden calls Abbott’s decision to open Texas, lift mask order ‘big mistake’
President Joe Biden weighed in on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift the mask order in Texas and open everything back to 100% next week during a meeting at the White House on Wednesday.
Biden said he thinks the decisions by the governors of Texas and Mississippi to ease COVID restrictions, including eliminating mask mandates, “is a big mistake.”
“I hoped that we would realize by now that masks make a difference,” Biden said. “We are on the cusp of fundamentally being able to change the nature of this disease because of the way we’ve been able to get vaccines in people’s arms ... The last thing we need is neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, ‘Everything is fine, (so) take off your mask.’ Forget it. It still matters.”
2. EXCLUSIVE: Abbott responds to criticism about order to rescind statewide mask mandate
On Tuesday, Abbott announced the state will reopen to 100% capacity on March 10.
“What President Biden is doing in Texas today is recklessly endangering the lives of Texans, as we are trying to provide them with vaccines,” Abbott told KPRC 2 in an exclusive interview.
Abbott made reference to a recent investigation by Telemundo that stated more than 100 migrants were released by border patrol after testing positive for COVID-19.
“President Biden’s administration itself is exposing Texans and Americans to COVID-19 through illegal immigrants that they are allowing to come into the state of Texas, who are positive for COVID-19 and being released into Texas communities,” Abbott said.
3. ‘You’re subject to arrest for criminal trespass’: Acevedo issues message regarding private businesses, masks
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo released a sturdy message for those who do not comply with private businesses’ policies on wearing masks after Gov. Greg Abbott rescinded the statewide mask order.
In the video, Acevedo wanted to remind residents that private entities and private businesses have a legal right to require customers to wear a mask. He said if a person goes to a business that requires you to wear a mask, to please wear the mask or take your business elsewhere.
Acevedo said for those who do not comply or leave the business are subjected to arrest for criminal trespass. He said the department is not interested in arresting people and ask for residents to make good choices.
4. CEO of ERCOT ‘terminated’ in aftermath of winter storm
The board overseeing the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the independent nonprofit entity that operates and manages the electricity grid that covers much of Texas, fired ERCOT CEO Bill Magness Wednesday night.
The move by the board to vote in favor of a “60-day termination notice” came after they convened in a private executive session for more than three hours. The board barely discussed its decision once returning to the public session.
The decision is the latest of several recently announced departures from the ERCOT board, which also included Magness. Five board members resigned in late February after public criticism that many board members did not reside in Texas. Magness’s absence leaves a mix of vacancies and temporary members on the 16-member ERCOT board.
5. 30 people arrested, 1 juvenile rescued during human trafficking sting in Fort Bend County
The Fort Bend County District Attorney announced Wednesday that dozens of people had been arrested during a multi-day sting called Operation Cupid.
According to the county, the DA’s office, in collaboration with the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance and other agencies, took 30 people into custody and rescued one juvenile victim during the three-day operation.
County officials said “johns” create a demand for human trafficking, so the county is “focused on saving victims by following basic economics; removing the demand will reduce the supply.”