NCAA teams locked away in hotel rooms amid Texas reopening

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Visitors crowd the River Walk in San Antonio, Thursday, March 18, 2021, as the city prepares to host the Women's NCAA College Basketball Championship. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

SAN ANTONIO – Looking down from her hotel room, Kentucky All-American Rhyne Howard can see the River Walk bustling with life.

Hundreds of people — a high percentage not wearing masks — enjoying the restaurants, bars and shops along the San Antonio tourist attraction.

“It's packed, no one had masks on. It's kind of weird,” Howard said on an AP All-America chat Thursday night. “Little kids, babies, old people, no masks."

Such is life in Texas, where the governor has lifted his previous mask order and thrown open business “100 percent” if they so choose. Things are starting loosen up. And people are getting out, even as many businesses are still requiring customers to wear masks.

The Texas reopening has caused health experts to worry it could lead to more spread of the virus just as the as the U.S. picks up the pace of vaccinations. In Texas, 9.8% of its nearly 30 million residents have been fully vaccinated, according to state data reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the lowest rates in the nation.

State health officials say COVID-19 has killed nearly 46,200 in Texas over the past year, but the number of hospitalized patients, newly confirmed cases and testing positivity rate are at their lowest in months.

The NCAA isn't oblivious to the numbers, but its plans are focused on the teams in the tournament.

The governing body is taking rigid precautions to ensure that the teams stay in the controlled environment. There has been only one confirmed positive COVID-19 test among the traveling parties of the 64 teams in the first few days in San Antonio.