AUSTIN, Texas—Although Texas has announced plans to drop a statewide face mask mandate and lift capacity limits on businesses starting May 10, many big retail, restaurant and hospitality chains operating in the state don’t plan to drop COVID-19-related restrictions, the Wall Street Journal reports.
As NACS Daily reported yesterday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott divided the business community when he announced that he would “open Texas 100%,” allowing businesses to operate at full capacity. Some business operators welcome the move, while others say it puts the state at risk of a coronavirus backslide and will make it more challenging for businesses to enforce safety protocols.
Currently, most businesses in the state can already operate at 75% capacity, so the governor’s new mask policy has raised larger questions. Gym operator Life Time, Albertsons and some local restaurants plan to stop mandating masks or return to normal capacity, or both. Hyatt Hotels, Target, Starbucks and CVS Health say they have no plans to drop mask requirements.
“I already get screamed at when people don’t want to wear their mask,” Yasmeen Tadia, owner of Make Your Life Sweeter Brands, a restaurant in a Dallas mall, told the Journal. “If that happens with the mandate how am I going to manage without it?”
Some business owners in hard-hit sectors like gyms and restaurants said they fully support a return to normalcy. Since September, the state has limited indoor restaurant capacity at 75%.
“Restaurants need the dine-in margins to really regain financial success,” said Laura Rea Dickey, CEO of Dickey’s Barbecue Restaurants, which has 160 of its 500 locations in the state. “It’s good momentum for folks and good news for the industry.”
The governor imposed a mask mandate in July 2020, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increased. More than 43,000 Texans have died of COVID-19, and the state has logged about 6,600 new cases in the past week, an increase from mid-February, but a sharp decrease from January. As of Tuesday, 12.9% of Texas residents had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Texas Restaurant Association feels confident about loosening restrictions given the level of vaccinations in the state and said it would advocate for restaurant workers to get vaccinated as soon as possible. The CDC recommends that both employees and customers wear masks when possible and when they’re not eating or drinking.
In recent weeks, COVID-19 cases have fallen and vaccines have rolled out across the country. Governors of Mississippi, Iowa and Montana have dropped statewide mask mandates, but some local governments have kept restrictions in place. In Texas, cities and counties are blocked from establishing their own mandates.
On Wednesday, President Biden said state leaders were making a “big mistake” in relaxing COVID-19 restrictions and protective measures, describing some of their latest moves as “Neanderthal thinking.”
The biggest grocers in Texas are taking different approaches to the policy change. Kroger will continue to require customers and employees to wear masks until its workers can receive the vaccine, while Albertsons said it will encourage—but not require—face coverings for customers. The company will still require employees to wear masks. Texas grocer H-E-B said it will keep its existing policy of requiring employees and vendors to wear masks and encouraging customers to wear them.
Some Texas retailers worry that the latest order will make it even tougher for them to provide a safe environment for customers and employees.
NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.