Governor Greg Abbott said “It is now time to open Texas 100%” as he announced he will lift its mask requirement and allow businesses to reopen at full capacity next week.
Mr Abbott, a Republican, has faced sustained criticism from his party over the state-wide mask mandate which was imposed eight months ago.
The US state of Michigan on Tuesday also announced a loosening of its coronavirus restrictions, allowing larger gatherings and easing limits on capacity for restaurants and other businesses.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves has also announced the ending of the mask mandate.
The lifting of measures comes despite warnings this week by the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who said the country risked a “potential fourth surge of cases” if it became complacent around controlling Covid-19.
The announcement in Texas, where the virus has killed more than 43,000 people, rattled doctors and experts who said they are now bracing for another deadly resurgence. One hospital executive in Houston said he told his staff they would need more personnel and ventilators.
Texas is fully reopening just ahead of the spring break holiday, which health experts worry could lead to more spread.Dr Joseph Varon, chief medical officer at Houston’s United Memorial Medical Center, said he called the hospital’s top leaders immediately after Abbott’s announcement and said they will need more staff and ventilators.
“I am just concerned that I am going to have a tsunami of new cases,” Dr Varon said. “I truly hope I am wrong. But unfortunately history seems to repeat itself.”
“The fact that things are headed in the right direction doesn’t mean we have succeeded in eradicating the risk,” said Dr Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of integrative biology and director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.
She said the recent deadly winter freeze in Texas that left millions of people without power – forcing families to shelter closely with others who still had heat – could amplify transmission of the virus in the weeks ahead, although it remains too early to tell. Masks, she said, are one of the most effective strategies to curb the spread.
“Absolutely reckless,” California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, tweeted in response to Mr Abbott’s announcement.
Mr Abbott’s rollbacks come as the US is gaining confidence about a return to normal life after picking up the pace of vaccinating people.
On Tuesday president Joe Biden said the US expects to take delivery of enough coronavirus vaccine for all adults by the end of May – two months earlier than anticipated – and he pushed states to get at least one shot into the arms of teachers by the end of March to hasten school reopenings.
In Texas, 7.1 per cent of its nearly 30 million residents have been fully vaccinated, according to state data reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But the nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci has warned against any relaxation of virus protocols until more Americans are vaccinated.
Dr Fauci has previously said the nation must achieve a vaccination rate of about 80 per cent to reach “herd immunity.
Covid-19 data shows that, while infections and deaths have declined in recent weeks, they are still at high levels relative to other countries.
In total, the US has recorded more than 28 million infections and 516,000 deaths related to Covid-19, according to data collated by Johns Hopkins University.