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Abbott defends scrapping mask mandate: It 'isn't going to make that big of a change'

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) on Thursday defended his decision to eliminate a statewide mask mandate amid an avalanche of criticism over the decision.

Abbott said in an interview with Fox News that officials in Austin are still advocating that Texans wear face coverings and that the state's residents are more aware now of how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“We are still strongly advocating that every Texan follow the best practice. Where we are today is completely different from where we were this time last year when Texans and Americans didn’t know how to deal with this. For an entire year, Texans have learned the best practice, and that is to wear a mask, and we still strongly recommend that people do wear a mask,” he said.

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“The mask requirement being eliminated isn’t going to make that big of a change in the state of Texas. Also, people in Texas will continue to wear a mask even though there’s not a state mandate. We’re just in a situation now where government mandates are not needed because Texans do know best practices,” he added.

The remarks come as Democrats lambast Abbott over a move they say will produce more community transmission of the coronavirus as more infectious variants make their way across the U.S. and the globe.

“I think it’s a big mistake. I hope everyone has realized right now these masks make a difference,” President BidenJoe BidenFederal Reserve chair: Economy would have been 'so much worse' without COVID-19 relief bills Biden to meet Monday with bipartisan lawmakers about infrastructure Jill Biden gives shout out to Champ, Major on National Pet Day MORE said Wednesday. “We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we are able to get vaccines in people’s arms.”

The president went on to criticize “Neanderthal thinking” of Abbott and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R), who also repealed a statewide mask mandate. 

That’s “not the type of thing that presidents should be saying,” Abbott fired back Thursday. 

The controversy comes as public health experts warn that vigilance must remain high to fight further spikes in infections. While a rise in vaccinations has provided a light at the end of the tunnel, experts have said that keeping case counts low will maximize the shots’ effectiveness. 

“My strong advice to them … would be to actually continue to implement the public health measures,” Anthony FauciAnthony FauciVaccinated Fauci hosts people at home, but stays away from crowded indoor spaces Trump endorses Rand Paul for reelection The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Let's make a deal on infrastructure, taxes MORE, the government’s leading infectious diseases expert, said on MSNBC, adding that “now is not the time to pull back.”