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Reactions to the maskless mandate

Let’s start with the doctors, since clearly they weren’t consulted.

Houston-area doctors and medical professionals reacted with dismay to Gov. Greg Abbott’s Tuesday decision to roll back the state’s mask mandate and other precautions against COVID-19.

“I had a pretty strong visceral reaction — like PTSD,” said Dr. Matt Dacso, an internist at the University of Texas Medical Branch. “I can think of no other word but incomprehensible… Everybody is hurting, but gosh, man. The masks were doing a lot for us.”

Dacso said the order was a huge hit to morale, coming almost exactly one year after the first recorded case in New York. His team had been celebrating the progress made since then — until they heard about Abbott’s order.

[…]

“It’s true that Texas has been vaccinating people,” said Peter Hotez, vaccine researcher at Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. “But after the recent freeze, we rank at the bottom of states in the percentage of people we’ve vaccinated: Only 13 percent of Texans have had their first dose.

“I would have preferred to wait a couple of weeks to reopen while we see how these new variants play out here, and so that we could catch up to the rest of the country in terms of vaccinations,” Hotez continued.

While people who have been vaccinated may feel tempted to go out without their masks, they shouldn’t, said Dr. Diana Fite, president of the Texas Medical Association.

A vaccination means they’re less likely to face severe complications from COVID-19, not that they’re less likely to catch it and infect others. COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers are still studying the rate of transmission and infection in people who have been immunized, and trial data may not be available until the spring.

“Fully vaccinating 1.8 million people is still a huge number, but it’s far from getting anywhere near where we say things are going to be contained,” Fite said.

Local hospitals say they are not planning to change their masking requirements.

“The COVID-19 virus and its effects will be with us for a long time,” St. Luke’s Health officials said in a Tuesday afternoon statement. To ensure the safety and health of our communities, we urge people to continue to wear masks and practice other precautions like hand washing and social distancing, in addition to getting vaccinated. Wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to limit the spread of the virus, which is why masks are still required at all St Luke’s Health facilities.”

See here for the background. Local health officials were equally vehement.

Keep wearing your mask and taking COVID-19 safety precautions, local health experts said Tuesday, after Gov. Greg Abbott announced he was lifting the statewide mask mandate and restrictions on businesses.

“Despite the impending removal of the state mask mandate, we must continue our vigilance with masking, distancing, and hand washing,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Travis County Interim Health Authority. “These remain critical in our ongoing fight against COVID-19.”

Expressing concerns about highly contagious variants of the virus and the need for local health officials to maintain some authority over their local situations — which vary widely from county to county — doctors and health officials cautioned that Texans should not take Abbott’s announcement as a signal to relax the behavior that has lead to a recent decrease in coronavirus case rates and hospitalizations.

[…]

Dr. Ivan Melendez, Hidalgo County Health Authority, said it’s premature to abandon safety precautions and hopes Texans can stay patient even in the absence of statewide rules.

“I think that people have a lot more common sense than we give them credit for, but … it’s very hard for human beings not to start socializing and to stop wearing masks,” he said.”I understand they are looking for any sign they can go back to the old ways, but I would just remind them that we’re in the bottom of the ninth, two runs out, and we’re almost there. This isn’t the time to put the bench in. This is the time to continue with the A-Team. Very soon, we’ll be there.”

Others said that while they’re glad Abbott did stress that Texans should stay cautious, the mandate provided an important function that the state may not be ready for yet.

“I think it’s a little bit early, in my opinion, to be removing the masking requirement,” said Dr. James McDeavitt, senior vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine. “I would have preferred to see our numbers lower, and I would have preferred to see more people vaccinated before we took that leap.”

Dr. John Carlo, CEO of Prism Health North Texas and a member of the state medical association’s COVID-19 task force, agreed it was too soon for Texans to relax their safety practices, adding he is especially concerned about the increasing spread of the U.K. variant of COVID-19, which is thought to be more contagious and perhaps more deadly.

None of this should be a surprise. I’m sure there are some doctors out there who are Team No Mask, but as a group this is obvious. The Texas Medical Association took a diplomatic path:

Restaurants were also cautious, though they have clear reasons to be happy about the full reopening stuff.

Operators wondered if they would be ready to return so quickly to full service; if they could hire workers fast enough to accommodate full capacity; if their purveyors would be ready to service increased orders for food and other goods. And, most crucially, how mask wearing would be handled by workers and a dining public no longer required to cover up.

There were no clear answers Tuesday.

“Personally, I didn’t expect him to say that today. I thought we wouldn’t see it until sometime in the summertime,” said [Levi] Goode, whose restaurant portfolio also includes Goode Co. Seafood, Goode Co. Kitchen & Cantina and Armadillo Palace. “We’ve adopted some great practice from the safety standpoint during the pandemic, and many of those will remain intact until we feel comfortable we can move in another direction.”

But without a state mandate that masks are required, next Wednesday will bring uncertainty.

Ricardo Molina, president and co-owner of Molina’s Cantina restaurants, said that he probably will not enforce masks for his servers, but that those who choose to wear one will be able to do so. He added that customers will ultimately dictate how the staff will come down on masks.

“We’re probably going to find the vast majority (of customers) are ready to see masks go away,” Molina said. “If people are ready to go all-out business as usual, we’re ready to do that as well.”

Paul Miller, owner of Gr8 Plate Hospitality which includes The Union Kitchen and Jax Grill restaurants, anticipates a gradual return to practices that existed before COVID-19.

“Our primary concern is for our staff and our guests, and while we certainly appreciate the opportunity to go back to 100 percent and the governor has removed the mask mandate, we are going to continue to uphold our safety and sanitation protocols as we slowly but surely move into this new phase of our business,” he said.

How the restaurant industry will negotiate that new phase wasn’t clear on Tuesday. While the Texas Restaurant Association celebrated Abbott’s announcement, it was quick to say that Texas restaurants must “remain vigilant so we do not slide backward.”

“Consumers will only go where they feel safe, and so restaurants must continue to be very thoughtful and implement the safety protocols that will enable them to maintain and build trust with their consumers and employees,” the association stated.

Yeah, that. It’s a thing I’ve been saying for months – you have to beat the virus if you really want to reopen. People will not want to patronize businesses if they don’t feel safe doing so. That as much as anything is why I would have expected a more gradual reopening, one that takes into account the fact that we still have a lot of vaccinations to administer, and still have a lot of people getting sick and going to the hospital. Just declare your intention to take the victory lap. What was the rush?

Personally, I’ve been eating at a couple of places that have outdoor seating, and also doing takeout. I will continue to do that for at least the next few months. The Chron’s Alison Cook is surveying restaurants around town to see what their response is; her initial story on that is here. Quite a few are currently planning to stay with what they’re doing now, which surprises me a little, but in a good way. I’ll be very interested to see how the wider public reacts. For the record, the subset of barbecue joint owners and brewery owners were not impressed and seem to be determined to keep doing what they’ve been doing for now.

School districts have a choice to make.

Local school boards will have the authority to decide whether to require students over the age of 10 to wear masks under current Texas Education Agency health guidance, after Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday he was lifting the state’s mask mandate and reopening businesses at 100 percent capacity.

In the governor’s executive order, which takes effect March 10, he wrote that public schools “may operate” under minimum health protocols found in Texas Education Agency guidance, and that private schools and colleges are “encouraged to establish similar standards.”

Under the previous mask mandate, all students older than 10 were required to wear masks on school property.

TEA’s most recent guidance, issued in December, says that outside the soon-to-expire mask mandate, school systems “may require the use of masks or face shields for adults or students for whom it is developmentally appropriate.”

Houston and Fort Bend ISDs issued statements Tuesday afternoon saying they would continue to require masks and face coverings at all schools and district facilities.

“This requirement is consistent with the advice of health professional and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” HISD officials said in a statement.

We got a robocall from HISD Tuesday afternoon informing us of this. It’s the clear and obviously correct call, and as someone whose kids are attending school in person, I’d have been massively pissed if they had done otherwise.

Metro riders will need to keep their masks on.

Despite state officials loosening restrictions related to COVID, Metropolitan Transit Authority officials said requirements for face coverings on riders and employees will continue.

“Metro has no plans at this time to drop the mask requirement for people riding our system,” transit agency spokesman Jerome Gray said.

Since June, Metro has required masks for anyone using the system. Last month, the Federal Transit Administration issued guidance that all transportation providers — buses, trains, ferries and planes — prohibit anyone from riding without a mask.

For those who do not have a face covering and want to hop on a bus, Metro drivers will offer them a mask. Bus drivers and others have handed out 2 million masks along the Metro system, agency officials said.

Good call. This, not so much.

H-E-B will urge, but not require, customers to wear masks inside its grocery stores in Texas after Gov. Greg Abbott rescinded his statewide mask mandate Tuesday, the company said.

The grocer and retailer, however, will still require employees and vendors to wear masks in the stores.

“Although there is no longer a statewide mask order, H-E-B believes it is important that masks be worn in public spaces until more Texans and our Partners have access to the Covid-19 vaccine,” Lisa Helfman, the retailer’s local public affairs director, said in a statement.

I’ve already seen a few people react negatively to this on Twitter. I try to do my HEB shopping early in the morning, to avoid larger crowds. I may need to push it a little earlier now. Yes, we could order curbside – we have done it a couple of times – but I like the in store experience. Or at least, I have liked it. Don’t make me regret my choices, HEB.

What are your expectations? Will you avoid or patronize places that lift their mask requirements? The Texas Signal and Dos Centavos have more.

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17 Comments

  1. Flypusher says:

    I’ve done curbside with HEB even though I too prefer going to the store. Among other upsides you get in a lot of walking. Their decision disappoints me for the sake of the people who work there. There’s plenty of anti-maskers itching to pick fights and Abbott’s decision gives them the green light.

  2. voter_worker says:

    I watched Lisa Gray’s interview with Dr. Hotez yesterday and he is optimistic that things will begin to normalize in June. I can, and will, continue my current shunning of all but medical interior spaces until then. I applaud the businesses that are stating that they will maintain mask requirements, but without the mandate they will be subject to belligerent confrontations from trolls and I have no doubt that some will be taken to court by the anti-mask zealots.

  3. Manny says:

    Fly, Channel 2 indicates that HEB may have changed their minds and may require people to wear masks. Have to wait until March 10, but I am sure that many of the maskless idiots will not be able to comprehend that not wearing masks did not begin yesterday.

  4. Manny says:

    I was in no hurry to get my vaccine, even though I qualified as I am over 65. I figured that there were many people older and in worse health than me, but thanks to the Fascists that run Texas, I signed up for the vaccine and will take my first vaccine this Saturday.

    I had passed up three opportunities to take the vaccine. I go out maybe one time a week, wear a KN95 mask and have wipes in the vehicle.

  5. I can’t boycott HEB, being up near the Metromess, but I can and will boycott Central Market, and Albertson’s/Tom Thumb. Shop Kroger, folks. Boycott HEB (and the cult of HEB). Blog post tomorrow. (Per Fly, the swiftness of HEB’s announcement indicates to me they were waiting for Abbott’s move.)

  6. Jack-of-all-Trades of the Obvious says:

    I envision multiple instances of restaurant/store workers getting caught in the middle between someone looking to pick a fight/make their point about their anti-mask position, and some business owners/companies sort of shrugging their shoulders/inability to stand up for their workers. There is no way this ends well for them.
    Culturally speaking, eventually, this becomes an entire split: maskers will only patronize masking businesses, and anti-maskers will only patronize anti-/non-mask establishments. One more way that you can entirely avoid being exposed to the “others”. This drives the cultural divides even wider; even as we begin to normalize based on actual recovery from the pandemic and vaccinations, folks won’t just start going back to those “other” establishments again. The divide will remain.

  7. Jack-of-all-Trades of the Obvious says:

    Also – let’s not lose sight of this:
    The timing of this announcement was specifically intended to take eyes off the ball that is the Freeze Failure.
    I propose that we ensure that we keep talking about it – certainly we can talk about 2 things at once(?). Doesn’t even matter to me what your views of it are, just keep talking about it and asking the questions. It needs to stay top in people’s attention/conversations.

  8. Jen says:

    From a story on ABC13 it looks like Kroger will not require customers to wear masks either. It is easy to leave a comment to HEB and Kroger on their websites. Ask them to please keep the mask mandate for everyone in Texas. Just go to the ‘contact us’ link on the page.

  9. Jason Hochman says:

    Gov Abbott is a genius, he has indeed got everyone talking about how the state to take the power of a dictator and tell them to wear a mask, as if they can’t make their own decisions. Linus didn’t need a law to carry his blanket. Accordingly, I am reconsidering my recommendation that Abbott be voted out, and may endorse him because he’s brilliant.

    FACT CHECK: MASKLESS MANDATE? THERE IS NO MANDATE. YOU MAY WEAR YOUR MASK, OR AVOID PLACES THAT ARE CROWDED WITH PEOPLE NOT WEARING A MASK. I’VE AVOIDED THE BARS IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD DUE TO THIS.

    SOCRATIC FLY COMMENTS THAT “PER FLY THE SWIFTNESS OF HEB’S ANNOUNCEMENT INDICATES TO ME THAT THEY WERE WAITING FOR ABBOTT’S MOVE. THIS CLAIM IS UNSUBSTANTIATED.

    PREEMPTIVE FACT CHECK. NUMBERS IN THE GREATER HOUSTON MSA HAVE GONE UP VERY SLIGHTLY THIS WEEK, BEFORE THE MASK LAWS WENT AWAY. IF THE NUMBERS CONTINUE TO GO UP IN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS, LET THE RECORD SHOW THAT THE TREND BEGAN BEFORE THE CHANGE, AND THAT MASKS OR NO MASKS DID NOT CAUSE THE TREND.

  10. Bill Daniels says:

    I participated in “15 days to flatten the curve,” because I’m a team player. I’ve now participated in “one year to flatten the curve,” also because I’m a team player and a good sport. My team spirit is at an end. I’m not sick, I’m not going to pretend to be diseased to make everyone else feel better about themselves pretending to be diseased. So if seeing people out and about without face diapers concerns you, the best course of action is, don’t confront, just stay away from them. That way, everyone’s happy.

    I will, however, respect private property. If a business still wants to insist on mandatory mask wearing, I’ll just find another business to trade with.

  11. Bill Daniels says:

    Some good news for those of you looking forward to that ‘herd immunity’ threshold being reached:

    https://www.bizpacreview.com/2021/03/03/108-illegal-immigrants-released-into-us-by-admin-test-positive-for-covid-some-wear-biden-t-shirts-1037694/

    Biden is doing his part to help Texans reach herd immunity by allowing diseased illegal aliens to enter and freely move about our state, infecting as they go, no doubt. Compare and contrast with the racist Trump, who intentionally kept OUT diseased illegals. But I can understand all this. I mean, some of the illegals even went to the trouble of wearing Biden t-shirts. They know who values them and who does not.

  12. brad says:

    Bill,

    I believe your teammates on this comment board would like you to keep your face mask on so we don’t have to smell the bullshit coming out from your face orofice.

    Thanks!

  13. Manny says:

    Biden had nothing to do with the release of people that tested positive. If one must blame someone, blame the Immigration officers that are supposed to do that. Trump lovers trying to cast the blame on Biden.

    https://www.factcheck.org/2021/02/biden-hasnt-reduced-covid-19-testing-at-the-border/

  14. Kroger is in some ways better than HEB. Plus, it’s not one of three Texas retail business cults (Bucees and Whataburger the others). And, y’all don’t have Winco down there, so you don’t even know what you’re missing there.

    Anyway, here’s my piece on boycotting HEB and ALSO on calling out the cult of HEB, including calling out its kabuki theater PR which isn’t close to true on its history of requiring masks.

    (Side notes: Bill is a team player? And Jason … is “caps lock” typing a symptom of Neanderthalism?)

    https://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2021/03/mad-masklessness-heb-fails-as-do.html

  15. Bill Daniels says:

    Manny,

    I’m going to have to start referring to you as Don Quixote. I don’t even understand what windmill you are trying to tilt at. The article I posted was specific, and succinct.

    Trump’s policy was to refuse entry to ALL illegals, period. They can’t come in. Easy to understand.

    Biden has changed the policy, so EVERYONE comes in, whether the Border Patrol catches them or not. So here we have illegals the Border Patrol caught that we DID test and can confirm that ARE diseased, and Biden just lets them in.

    It would be like if my ancestors got tested for the Spanish flu, tuberculosis, and the bubonic plague at Ellis Island, and the government STILL let them in. Can you see how insane that is?

    You’re here crying about Abbott ending the mask mandates, but you’re totally good with Biden unleashing a bunch of KNOWN diseased illegals on Texas. Where do you think they’re going to go, Manny? They aren’t going to be staying in my neighborhood, infecting me…..they’re going to be in your neighborhood, and in Denver Harbor, etc., infecting YOUR people, Manny.

    What is even the point of wasting the money testing illegals for the China virus if we’re just going to let them all in anyway? I recall people here griping about “There’s not enough testing, we need more testing!” Well, here’s your government testing illegals vs. testing US citizens.

    illegal aliens > US citizens

    This is why many people supported the America First agenda, because they think it should be the other way around.

  16. Manny says:

    Bill, you are a liar, you lie about almost everything.

    Bill, you are a racist.

    Bill, you are a bigot.

    Bill, you are a misogynist;

    Some of the things that you have written are as follow;

    give orders for the soldiers to shoot to kill any person entering the kill zone from the Mexican side, period. Women? Children? Old people? Military age males? Waste anyone that crosses from Mexico into the US. Back that up with predator drones . and perhaps an A-10 every 3 or 4 hundred miles, for close air support for larger groups, and you’ve secured the border, with no fences.

    I support abortion, because most of the murdered kids would otherwise have been born to liberal parents. It’s better they were never born and don’t have to suffer the neglect, abuse, and brainwashing leftist parent(s) are known for. They also don’t grow up to vote for leftists, so there’s that, too. Look at the crime and rioting in leftist controlled areas; Without easy access to abortions, the crime rate in those areas would be even higher as the unwanted, un-cared for kids grow up and turn into ‘super predators.’
    It’s really ironic. You would think that leftists would be the ones opposing abortion because it mainly kills their own voters.

    It is also obvious that Meghan wears the pants in your family because otherwise you would not have used your dog whistle to mock our president. You used to be a real man who other men looked up to. Now you’re seen as nothing more than a milquetoast.
    Sadly, you went from a hero in 2008, when you served on the front lines in Afghanistan, to a henpecked husband now. You have been turned into a puppet whose strings are being pulled by a domineering bitch.
    And your press is nearly as bad as the daily attacks against the President by the Trump-hating media. The only good press you get is in the US, but only when you bad-mouth President Trump.
    Your fame-hungry wife is achieving her goal. There is even talk about her being a future presidential candidate. Horrors!!
    Harry, I’m sure you are having great sex and getting mind-blowing blow jobs, but when all is said and done, your marriage will eventually head for the rocks. And it will most likely be a bitter and contentious divorce involving the custody of your wonderful son Archie. But when it’s all over, you’ll be rid of the domineering bitch.

    LOL! While I would agree with most that this isn’t the typical BJP subject matter, surprise, surprise, surprise…..I pretty much agree with Howie.

    Bill, is a racist, a bigot, and a misogynist.

  17. Manny says:

    Bill, you can attempt to play change the game rules all you want, I won’t play unless I choose to play your stupid fascist game.