Updated: Oct 15, 2021
On March 2, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order lifting the mask mandate and increasing the capacity of all businesses and facilities in Texas to 100%. In his address to the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce, Abbott pointed to the increase in medical advancements regarding the Coronavirus as his main decision in issuing the order. “With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus,” he said in his address. Texas now becomes one of the 16 states without a statewide order mandating mask-wearing.
Abbott’s decision is also based on his interest in reinstating “normalcy for Texans.” Previously, the mask mandate Abbott signed on July 2nd made face coverings mandatory for most Texans in public. The mandate also restricted capacity and enforced safety protocols at businesses.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves also announced on the same day as Abbott that he would be lifting all state-imposed mask mandates and COVID-19 related restrictions on businesses throughout Mississippi.
Abbott’s order sparked a wide range of reactions across the aisle. Several Republicans believed the order to be long overdue—viewing the mandate as a personal infringement on their rights. On the other hand, various Democrats disapproved of his decision, citing that the lack of a mask mandate would lead to a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Although Abbott rescinded the mandate, a majority of Texas businesses have indicated that they will continue to enforce mask-wearing among their employees and encourage their customers to do the same. Large retailers such as Target, Best Buy, and Starbucks announced that they had no plan to change their mask policies. Many companies have stated that they will continue to follow the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines.
Several business owners across the state have praised Abbott’s new executive order. Chris Berry, President of the Lubbock Restaurant Association, was “really excited to hear it.” As the owner of multiple restaurants across the state, he believes that the lifted restrictions will increase revenue due to an increase in capacity size for businesses.
Maggie Thompson, Executive Director of the San Antonio RiverWalk Association, was also in agreement with Abbott. She believes that the governor has “taken great steps to protect guests at hotels and restaurants and attractions.” While various business owners have expressed support of the mask mandate being lifted, numerous others, especially lower-wage workers, oppose the new order because of the lack of safety protocols in place.
In response to the governor’s decision, many industrial workers in the state gathered around the Capitol building in Austin on March 8 to protest Abbott’s decision to end the mask mandate. The protest was led by the Texas Service Industry Coalition, a group whose goal is to unite industry workers to fight for better wages and conditions. In their plea to Governor Abbott, the protesters asked that at least 70% of essential workers be vaccinated before the state fully opens again.
Crystal Maher, a server and cashier at an Austin Pizza shop, hoped that the March 8 rally would push lawmakers to enforce stringent COVID-19 regulations. She believes that Texas politicians “are not doing one thing to help us get back to work safely and efficiently.”
Liz, another service worker present at the rally, demanded compensation for workers. “We have endured hazardous work environments with no compensation for the risk that we have taken. And those that are meant to serve us, our politicians, have shown us that they are not willing to take profit losses, even if means saving our lives,” she told the crowd.
The new order comes at a questionable time, as less than 7% of Texans have been vaccinated. Health experts estimate that the state must vaccinate 75% to 90% of its population to achieve herd immunity.
Furthermore, Houston Health authority David Persee called the decision to lift the mandate “premature.” Persee hopes that the Governor would “rather make a decision based on the science.”
With infection numbers higher today in Texas than they were in September and 45,000 people already deceased due to the Coronavirus, Abbot’s lift on mask mandates could lead to the next big surge in COVID-19 cases in the United States.
Through Teen Lenses: How do you think Governor Abbott lifting the mask mandate is going to impact Texas?
“In a state where several occurrences have demonstrated that the government fails to take the necessary precautions to counter the virus, lifting the mask mandate will only elongate the duration of the pandemic. Although significant development has been made as 3 vaccines have been approved, it is essential that we must remain cautious and follow CDC guidelines to maximize the effectiveness of these vaccines and slow the spread of the virus.” Avyay Potarlanka, 17, Urbana High School, Urbana, MD
“I believe that Governor Abbott made the wrong decision in lifting the mask mandate. In order to stop the spread, wearing masks is crucial. It will eventually lead to COVID-19 cases to rise and it will hurt the Texas economy.” Noah Lenkin, 18, Wootton High School, North Potomac, MD
“I think Texas lifting the mask mandate is quite foolish, to be honest. It’ll leave so many people at risk to get the coronavirus, especially immunocompromised and elderly citizens. The governor should have waited at least until the summer to lift the mandate when the vaccine was given to more people. I think people will look back at the decision to be a grave mistake.” Sahithi Kondam, 18, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN