- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Tuesday lifting the state's mask mandate and increasing capacity of businesses and facilities to 100% effective March 10, according to a press release. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves also removed the state's mask mandate and business capacity restrictions starting Wednesday.
- Massachusetts allowed dining rooms to fully open on Monday, but some restrictions still apply, including wearing masks, separating tables six feet apart and limiting party size to six patrons, according to Eater. Louisiana also joined the fray by allowing dining rooms to reach 75% capacity on Wednesday.
- Governors are citing declines in average daily coronavirus cases and hospitalization rates and access to vaccines as reasons to roll back restrictions, arguing that the onus of safety should rely on individuals. But CDC Director Rochelle Walensky warned on Friday that relaxing restrictions in this way could stall progress, especially with more contagious variants spreading across the country, according to NPR.
Relaxed restrictions may be welcome news for many restaurants that have had to lay off staff amid reduced operations. Michigan and Arkansas also recently increased dining room capacity to 50% and 100%, respectively.
From November 2020 to January 2021, about 450,000 jobs were lost in the industry and 80% of operators say their current staffing levels are below pre-pandemic levels, according to the National Restaurant Association's March 2 letter to Congressional leaders.
In Texas, which is the largest state to ease restrictions, over 10,000 restaurants closed in 2020 and 85% of operators said their profit margins were lower than before the pandemic, according to the Texas Restaurant Association. Massachusetts lost about a quarter of its restaurants as of June 2020 while the Louisiana Restaurant Association warned in July 2020 that one in four restaurants wouldn’t make it through the pandemic.
Gov. Abbott argues that with vaccines and antibiotic therapies available, now is the time to try and bring back a sense of normalcy in Texas. He added the state has a surplus of personal protective equipment and the capacity to complete 100,000 COVID-19 tests daily.
"Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed," he said in the press release. Businesses can still issue their own capacity limits and safety protocols as they feel necessary, he said.
Massachusetts eased its dining room restrictions after the state reduced average daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations while vaccine rates continued to rise, which allowed the state to reach Phase III of its reopening plan, according to a press release.
Despite the decrease in cases, Walensky said during a White House briefing on Monday that the rollbacks of restrictions were cause for concern. While infections, hospitalization and deaths appear to be plateauing, they are still high, she said. If cases were to spike again, it could become the fourth round of a surge in infections since last March.
"At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained," Walensky said.