It marked the first time the Lone Star State reported no coronavirus deaths in about 14 months, according to state health data. Abbott said the case numbers reported on Sunday – 388 – were the lowest in more than 13 months, while the number of hospitalizations was the lowest in 11 months.
President Biden skewered Texas, as well as Mississippi, at the beginning of March for relaxing lockdown measures, accusing state officials of "Neanderthal thinking." At the time, Abbott had announced that businesses would be allowed to operate at full capacity – even though some health experts cautioned at the time that dropping preventative measures could lead to a spike in cases.
"I think it's a big mistake," Biden told reporters, following the announcement from Texas. "Look, I hope everybody's realized by now, these masks make a difference. We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we're able to get vaccines in people's arms."
Since then, however, caseloads nationwide have dropped as more Americans are vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also updated its guidance last Thursday, saying that it's safe for fully vaccinated Americans to forgo social distancing and go most places – indoor or outdoor – without a mask, bringing to end more than a year of mandatory face coverings in most parts of the country. But some states, including Hawaii and Massachusetts, have insisted they will keep their mask mandates in place.
The CDC drew a sharp rebuke for its roundabout on the matter of face coverings; less than two months ago, Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned of "impending doom" as COVID-19 cases began to rise again.
Some argued the new directives were too unclear and reliant on an honor system that could require essential workers to police vaccination records, while others questioned whether the move was intended to spur more Americans to get vaccinated amid a steady decline in shots.
Close to 47% of the adult population in the U.S. is fully vaccinated, according to data published by the CDC, while nearly 60% of the adult population has received at least one dose. The vaccination rate is expected to rise shortly following the Food and Drug Administration's approval this week for the use of the Pfizer vaccine in children between the ages of 12 and 15.
More than 585,000 Americans have died from the virus, the most in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data.