Hyatt Hotels, Target, Starbucks and CVS Health were among the companies who announced continued mask mandates in their establishments. A CVS spokesman said the drugstore chain will continue to mandate masks in adherence to federal health guidelines. Drugstore employees are instructed to avoid confrontation with mask-less customers and try to serve them as quickly as possible, he added.
CVS first mandated masks in its stores nationwide back in July. Meanwhile, rival drugstore chain Walgreens followed its competitor's footsteps in maintaining face masks as a requirement for customers.
Grocery chains in the Lone Star State have responded to Abbott's lifting in different ways. Kroger said it will continue to require both customers and employees to wear masks – until such time that its workers get vaccinated against the Wuhan coronavirus. Albertsons said it will continue requiring employees to wear masks. However, it will now "encourage" customers to wear face coverings: Albertsons previously required customers to do so. H-E-B also announced it will retain its policy of requiring employees and vendors to mask up while encouraging customers to do the same.
Gym operator Life Time said it will no longer require customers to wear masks or keep social distance as soon as the mandate repeal takes effect on March 10. A company spokeswoman said employees must still wear masks and undergo temperature checks. She added that clubs will maintain strict cleaning protocols and individual locations may reinstate restrictions should hospitalization rates in their area spike. Twenty-six of Life Time's 150 locations are located in the Lone Star State.
Back in July 2020, Abbott ordered a mask mandate days before the Fourth of July celebration that year. It required Texans to wear face masks whenever they are inside business establishments and outdoor public spaces. The Texas governor said on Feb. 25 that he is considering a total repeal of the mask mandate and other restrictions – which he eventually did. (Related: Texas ends all coronavirus lockdowns, mask mandates, business occupancy restrictions.)
Starting March 10, residents of the Lone Star State will no longer be required to wear face coverings when going to establishments. In addition, restaurants will be allowed to operate at full capacity starting March 10. Prior to the full repeal of restrictions, restaurants were already permitted to resume indoor dining operations at 75 percent capacity.
But the restrictions have caused concern for food retailers, which have remained open amid the pandemic. They have required both customers and employees to wear face masks, but some customers have either worn face coverings improperly or pushed back entirely against these requirements. Some restaurant owners are worrying that Abbott's decision will make it more difficult to ensure a safe environment for both customers and employees. (Related: Texas movie theaters, malls and restaurants reopen with "airport security-style" checkpoints.)
Yasmeen Tadia, who owns confectionery company Make Your Life Sweeter Brands, told The Wall Street Journal: "I already get screamed at when people don't want to wear their mask. If that happens with the mandate, how am I going to manage without it?" Still, this has not dissuaded her from continuing to insist on masks. "I've already printed out a sign that masks are required upon entry," Tadia said.
Tinku Saini, the co-founder of Tarka Indian Kitchen in Austin, said he was concerned that Abbott's rollback on restrictions came too soon. He immediately started getting calls from worried restaurant employees following the governor's announcement. Nevertheless, he said that existing safety protocols such as limited indoor capacity and six-feet spacing between tables will continue. Saini added that Tarka employees won't confront mask-less patrons to avoid putting staff members "in a position of creating adversarial relations."
But some restaurant owners chose to play it safe. Michael Neff, owner of Houston's Cottonmouth Club, said he is keeping his bar closed despite the relaxed restrictions. He defended his move to keep his establishment closed as he is more concerned about the safety of staff members and patrons. Neff remarked: "Nothing has changed for us. Just because Greg Abbott says it's safe doesn't mean it's safe."
Based on data collated by Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. currently has 28.9 million COVID-19 cases with 522,876 fatalities.
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