By Alyssa Walrad
As we begin to round a major corner with the Coronavirus pandemic, Texas made headlines once again: Gov. Greg Abbott announced he will be lifting the statewide mask mandate and reopening businesses at 100% capacity, effective March 10. Texas joins about a dozen others across the United States that have either not enforced or lifted their mask mandates since the pandemic hit almost a year ago. This unexpected announcement now leaves business owners in a critically difficult place, having to adhere to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health and safety guidelines, while also following state guidance.
As COVID-19 cases and deaths steadily decrease nationwide, an alarming premature reopening pattern is sweeping the nation. Unlike its constituents, Texas is still seeing a substantial 200 plus deaths daily, and only about 7% of Texan residents are vaccinated. This comes after four domestic variants of COVID-19 have mutated and spread nationally.
Gov. Abbott states that his executive order does not stop businesses from operating how they please, leaving owners to choose whether to still limit capacity and require masks on entry. Many local leaders and officials fear that this mandate lift will cause a lax attitude among civilians and in turn, another outbreak. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo believes this move by Abbot will “reverse the gains we’ve worked so hard to achieve,” along with Democratic leaders who’ve stated it is “extremely dangerous” and “will kill Texans.” Some leaders, like chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and Rep. of Grand Prairie Chris Turner, are adamant that Gov. Abbott “is desperate to distract from his recent failures during the winter storm and is trying to change the subject.” Abbott is receiving serious backlash from his own party, with Texas GOP chairman Allen West making connections to the crippling Coronavirus death toll in Florida as a precursor to what Texas may see.
Texas joins Alabama, Utah and Mississippi, all of which will lift their mandates by the beginning of April. Despite these changes, many national corporations like Walgreens, Target and Kroger still require patrons to wear a mask inside their facilities following CDC guidelines. The subjective nature states used to categorize requirements citizens must fulfill to get vaccinated play into the controversy of these lifts. As many states, including Texas, suffer from a subpar vaccine roll out, many frontline workers are now even more at risk in the coming weeks as store and facility capacity is restored fully. Customers entering said places could be asymptomatic or ill, placing a grim magnifier on what we all believed could be a possible end in sight.