Maskless Spring Break Visitors Descend on Texas Beaches After COVID Curbs Lifted

Officials in Texas are bracing for a busy Spring Break after state restrictions on businesses and visitors lifted this week, prompting thousands of visitors to head to beaches to enjoy the warmer weather and new found freedoms.

Texas lawmakers have been at the forefront of the nationwide push to loosen coronavirus restrictions, citing the catastrophic damage done to businesses since the pandemic took hold in the U.S. last year and prompted shut down orders.

The Texas statewide mask mandate ended on March 10 and businesses are now being encouraged to operate at full capacity as long as hospitals in their region are not reporting a large share of COVID-19 patients.

Governor Greg Abbott said earlier this month he would loosen restrictions so "businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny." The governor added: "It is now time to open Texas 100 percent...people and businesses don't need the state telling them how to operate."

Galveston was the place to be on Saturday as the first Spring Break weekend of the year got underway.

— KHOU 11 News Houston (@KHOU) March 14, 2021

Saturday saw thousands of people travel to Galveston's beaches, the CBS-affiliated KHOU television station reported Sunday. Though many still wore masks and practised social distancing, others cited the end of the mask mandate as their reason to ditch protective gear.

Kelly Robertson, visiting from Fort Worth, told KHOU that each person could "take care of themselves as far as whether they want to mask or not. It's completely up to them. We don't need the government entity to come out here and tell us you need a mask or you don't need a mask."

Earlier this week, videos and photographs from other beaches showed maskless young visitors enjoying the end of the mask mandate. Videos from South Padre Island, for example, showed several parties in bars that were not requiring masks.

Businesses in Texas will welcome the chance to rebalance their books after months of restrictions and uncertainty. The ongoing vaccine rollout program means there is light at the end of the tunnel, though Texas is lagging behind most other states, with 18.3 percent of residents having received one dose and 9.6 percent fully vaccinated according to The New York Times.

But experts have warned that Texas might be jumping the gun by easing restrictions earlier than other states. President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said last week the Texas move was a "concern."

"We understand people's need to get back to normal, and we're going in that direction. But when you start doing things like completely putting aside all public health measures as if you're turning a light switch off, that's quite risky," Fauci said. "We don't want to see another surge, and that's inviting one when you do that."

Galveston beach Texas pictured in May 2020
This file photo shows beachgoers at Galveston Beach on May 2, 2020 in Galveston, Texas. MARK FELIX/AFP /AFP via Getty Images