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'We're not out of the woods yet' | Nirenberg calls Abbott's decision on mask mandate, business capacity 'a huge mistake'

"COVID-19 is still widespread in our community and infecting far too many vulnerable residents," the San Antonio mayor said after Abbott announced the change.

SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg responded to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's decision to end the statewide mask mandate and allow businesses to fully reopen, calling it "a huge mistake."

"Opening everything to 100% while simultaneously nixing our state's mask mandate is a huge mistake," Nirenberg said in a tweet after the governor's announcement. "COVID-19 is still widespread in our community and infecting far too many vulnerable residents. Please join me in continuing to wear a mask. We're not out of the woods yet."

Abbott announced at a restaurant in Lubbock on Tuesday that conditions had improved in the fight against COVID-19 to the point where he felt businesses could open to full capacity starting next Wednesday. 

Both Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff doubled down on their disagreement with Abbott at Tuesday evening's coronavirus response briefing, where the judge said: "No doubt, we all think it's a big mistake. 

“We’ve been through incredible challenges throughout this year, people have endured the unbelievable. People have lost their lives and we’re going to stop short of the goal. For what reason, I don’t know,” Nirenberg added at the briefing. “Let’s be clear: Reducing our defenses will likely result in higher transmission."

Abbott argues Texas’s increasing vaccination numbers and drop in hospitalization rates opened the door for knocking down the restrictions.

Nirenberg hopes the announcement if anything, accelerates the urgent need for vaccines to be delivered, especially with a third shot on the way.

“The state and the fed need to deliver on vaccines now. We’ve been asking now for well over a month,” Nirenberg said.

Abbott’s announcement has prompted city leaders to take a deeper look at the order and what it means for local coronavirus-related protocols.

“The governor’s orders shouldn’t be a Sudoku puzzle in terms of trying to figure out what we can or can’t do,” said City Attorney Andy Segovia.

Even with no statewide mask rule, businesses are permitted to continue observing their own safety measures beyond requiring face coverings.

Counties are now allowed to enact their own mask order. But county judges do have limited authority to impose restrictions if the coronavirus patient hospitalization rate goes up by 15 percent for seven days in a row.

But enforcement will be difficult.

“Even if it does go over 15, you can’t put any penalty in for the face mask and you’re not authorized to mandate customers or employees so it’s a very limited power,” Nelson said.

RELATED: Gov. Abbott plans to end statewide mask mandate, allow businesses to open at 100% capacity on March 10

Former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro also weighed in on Abbott's announcement Tuesday afternoon, calling it "a reckless decision that would cost lives."

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro released a statement accusing Abbott of intentionally undermining public safety because he thinks it's good politics.

"Abbott's following the lead of Ron DeSantis of Florida and Kristi Noem of South Dakota, both auditioning to be the next Donald Trump, and putting politics above the people of Texas," he said.

San Antonio City Councilman Roberto Treviño said he was "concerned" about the governor's announcement, calling the action "premature" and one that "will make Texans less safe" at this point. 

City Councilwoman Ana Sandoval said via social media that "rolling back precautions across the state...recklessly endangers the lives of millions."

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