Small business owners in Texas have reacted to Governor Greg Abbott decision on lifting the mask mandate in the state, saying it is too soon.
Governor Greg Abbott, on March 1, issued an Executive Order (GA-34) lifting the mask mandate in Texas and increasing capacity of all businesses and facilities in the state to 100 percent.
"With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus,” the governor had said.
This decision of the governor has put Texas business owners in a fix as to whether they should mandate masks in their stores and restaurants, risking the ire of customers who disagree.
"It's too soon for it," said Humbelina Gonzales, a shop owner after hearing the lifting of the mask mandate.
She said that will not allow customers to enter without a mask. "If they don't want to wear a mask, they're not allowed to come in," she said. "That's the way I see it."
Florencio "Smiley" Gonzales, who volunteers with his wife, Humbelina Gonzales, said he understands that businesses are struggling amid the pandemic.
He said he is trying to protect not only himself but even the customers coming into the store.
"Abbott is putting us in a spot, but we will take care of the customer," he said. "That's our goal."
Mike Nguyen, owner of San Antonio restaurant said, "What he's done is he's put the burden on the business now, and that's going to create conflict at some point."
As an Asian American, Nguyen is also worried about potential clashes with customers who refuse to wear a mask in his business, particularly of recent violent attacks against Asian Americans across the country.
Nguyen further told CNN that he fully supported reopening Texas businesses. "But what does taking away the mask mandate have to do with anything about reopening Texas?" he asked.
Sarah Heard, a co-chef and co-owner of Foreign & Domestic, a farm-to-table restaurant in Austin said lifting the mask mandate at this point is "pretty reckless and hasty." "It's terrifying, to be honest."
Heard said her restaurant will continue to require employees and customers to wear masks and social distance. But she fears that other restaurants may ease restrictions and this would affect her business and may lose customers.
Some business owners have welcomed Abbott's order. Business owners, like Missy Herring, the owner of Creating Printing & More in Three Rivers, Texas, have welcomed the change.
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Herring said she herself doesn't usually wear a mask, claiming it worsens her existing health conditions. She also said that she has never forced her customers to wear a mask in her store.
She said she did wear a mask where it was required, "but the minute I walked out, I took my mask off," she said.
Now, with the new order set to take effect, she says she won't have to wear a mask in stores if she doesn't want to. On asking if the store/restaurants askes her to wear a mask, she said, "They don't need my money, I can find another store."
As the CNN has reported, the governor's decision has been widely criticised by public health experts, who say it's too early to loosen restrictions. Even though the US vaccine process has picked up, the concerns remain over the COVID-19 variants which appear to be more transmissible.
Meanwhile, Abbott's not the only governor which has relaxed the restrictions. Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves has also made a similar announcement on Tuesday, ending county mask mandates and allowing businesses to open at 100 percent capacity.
Governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, too on Thursday said she would extend the state's mask mandate until April 9, but would not go beyond that, calling it a "step too far in government overreach."
However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on March 4 that lifting restrictions is premature.
"It just is inexplicable why you would want to pull back now," Fauci told CNN on March 4.
He said he understands the desire to return to normality, but pushing aside COVID-19 guidelines will only set back progress against the pandemic.
As per vaccines are concerned, nearly 5.7 million vaccine shots have been administered to Texans, and the state is now administering almost one million shots each week. The governor's executive order has said that by the end of March, every senior who wants a vaccine should be able to get one.
The vaccine supply continues to increase so rapidly that more and more Texans will soon be eligible to receive a vaccine.
Meanwhile, the United States has also recorded fewer than 40,000 new cases of COVID-19 in one day for the first time in five months on March 4, according to the Johns Hopkins University pandemic tracker.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.