Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

What can we expect from the maskless mandate?

More COVID, obviously.

The Centers for Disease Control is increasing pressure on Republican leaders in states like Texas that have eased COVID restrictions, publishing a study on Friday showing evidence that the measures — such as the mask requirement that Gov. Greg Abbott rescinded this week — clearly decrease COVID cases and deaths, while opening up restaurants causes them to spike.

“We have seen this movie before: When prevention measures like mask mandates are rolled back, cases go up,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. “I know the idea of relaxing mask wearing and getting back to everyday activities is appealing, but we’re not there yet.”

[…]

On Friday, Walensky continued to sound the alarm. She said that COVID cases and deaths have started to plateau for more than a week at levels similar to the late summer surge — just as some states are easing restrictions that helped drive those cases down.

White House officials said Friday the trend is concerning, especially as progress has been made on vaccinations. Nearly 55 percent of people 65 and older have received at least one vaccine dose, up from just 8 percent six weeks ago, senior White House COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt said.

More than 3.5 million Texans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and nearly 2 million have been fully vaccinated, out of a population of 29 million. Still, the state ranks among the lowest for the percentage of people vaccinated, at 13 percent.

“It’s better to spike the football once you’re safely in the end zone, not once you’ve made a couple of completions,” Slavitt said.

The CDC released a new report on Friday that showed COVID cases and death rates decreased within 20 days of the implementation of state mask mandates. That progress was quickly reversed with the opening of restaurants, however, the report said. COVID cases rose between 41 and 100 days after states allowed dining in restaurants and daily death rates rose between 61 and 100 days after.

“Policies that require universal mask use and restrict any on-premises restaurant dining are important components of a comprehensive strategy to reduce exposure to and transmission of SARS-CoV-2,” the study said. “Such efforts are increasingly important given the emergence of highly transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variants in the United States.”

I think what’s so infuriating about this is that we really are in the home stretch now. Texas is at the back of the pack in terms of vaccination rate (though Harris County is doing reasonably well), but we are making steady progress. Anecdotally, I know so many more people now who have gotten at least their first shot compared to just a month ago. It would have been so easy to say that we just need to hold on until (say) Memorial Day or something like that, when we can expect to have a significant number of people who have been vaccinated, then we can really begin to ease up. We can emphasize outdoor events first, and be clear about when masks aren’t needed (when everyone involved has been vaccinated) versus when they should still be worn. We’ve come this far, we can see where we want to be, we just need to finish the job. Why was that so hard?

You may say, as Abbott was quoted in the story, that we haven’t actually enforced the mask mandate in Texas that just urging people to wear them while explicitly not requiring it isn’t all that different. I’d say first that the reason we haven’t enforced it is because Greg Abbott was so frightened by the likes of Shelley Luther that he cowardly backed down from any kind of official enforcement. What that has meant in practice is that responsibility for mask requirements falls squarely on the shoulders of frontline workers, who at least had the backup of an executive order when confronting some maskhole. But now even that is going away, which means we’ll have a lot more of this:

Fidel Minor, a Houston Metro bus driver, said Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask rollback will incite “mass chaos” on city buses as drivers like him try to enforce federal mask requirements for transit.

“It’s already a hard enough job as it is without having conflicting directives,” said Minor, a driver for Houston Metro.

Abbott relaxed requirements on businesses Tuesday, lifting statewide mask mandates and reducing capacity restrictions on restaurants and retailers. The order, effective March 10, sent chills through frontline workers across the region who say they still face risks on the job.

Asking customers to wear masks means being met with a daily dose of attitude, said Stacy Brown, bakery manager at Phoenicia Specialty Foods, a grocery store on the ground floor of One Park Place downtown. Now she fears that attitude will spread.

“We’re gonna have people come into the store, not wanting to comply just because of what (Abbott) says,” she said, noting she feels it’s especially important that her customers wear masks because as a diabetic she’s in a high-risk group.

[…]

David Lee, a deli manager at Kroger in Galveston who got sick with the virus in December, said it’s scary to know he and his colleagues will be surrounded by more of the maskless customers he believes exposed him to the virus in the first place. “I think (Abbott) should wait at least two more months,” he said. “It’s going to be scary now.”

For its part, the family-run Phoenicia will keep its mask mandate at its two Houston stores and restaurants, said owner Haig Tcholakian. Requiring masks inside his stores is about health and safety for staff and customers, first and foremost, he said. But also because when workers get sick or exposed, it affects business, too.

“It disrupts operations quite a bit, and if there are multiple (illnesses) across all businesses that would probably limit us and make us scramble to make up for that,” he said.

Tcholakian said he and his employees have to ask people to leave a handful of times a week. Like Brown, his bakery manager, he’s concerned that enforcement will get more difficult now. “We’ll have to prepare for it.”

For Teresa McClatchie, an escalator monitor at Bush Intercontinental Airport, the governor’s policy change seems at odds with the facts on the ground. She said her coworkers are still ill with the virus — one may need to stay on oxygen on an ongoing basis because of damage the virus did to her lungs.

“We still have some employees out,” she said, “and some, they may not be back.”

The number of restaurants and other businesses that will continue to require masks is inspiring and may just help blunt the effect of Abbott’s foolishness, but it still shouldn’t fall on these people to ensure that the jackasses out there don’t endanger them or others.

And for those of you who may be mad at HEB for urging but not requiring masks at their stores, it’s exactly with this in mind that they made this call.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland has the explanation why the store won’t require customers to wear masks in light of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Tuesday announcement.

While it has the power to require customers to wear masks before entering, McClelland said H-E-B won’t take that step – in part because of belligerent customers who have caused nearly 2,000 in-store incidents surrounding masks at Houston stores alone.

If a customer walks into the store without a mask, a worker will ask them to put one on, McClelland said. If they don’t have one, they will be offered a mask.

If they still refuse to put one on, McClelland said “we are not going to escalate.”

“What’s important to me is, I’ve got to ensure for the physical safety of both my employees and customers in the store,” McClelland said. “That’s what we have been doing, and frankly it’s the same thing we’ll continue to do.”

I confess, I recently yelled at one dipshit at HEB who was walking around with his mask on his chin. It wasn’t smart, and it wasn’t considerate of the other customers in the yogurt aisle who had to be wondering if something was about to go down, but I was so mad and I felt like someone needed to do something. McClelland is right about not escalating, and I will just have to keep that in mind. And I have already spent more time and energy thinking about this than Greg Abbott ever will.

Related Posts:

13 Comments

  1. Flypusher says:

    For those who throw public tantrums over masks, and harass poor service and retail employees, let us have public shaming. Let us have all businesses who want to protect people agree to refuse those jerks service when they’ve been ID’ed as jerks. Fortunately many of them are eager to document their bad behavior, and if they don’t, plenty others can. That could be a useful website: “Covid Crybabies”, so that you can ID the bullies and idiots. Shun them and ban them.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    I agree with Fly here….with one caveat. If it’s the business that wants to insist on mask wearing on their property, then a non mask wearing customer should comply, or leave. Likewise, in the cases of gun stores or banks, if the business insists that you do NOT wear a mask, for safety, then comply or get out.

    If random customers are throwing public tantrums over other customers, then those random complaining customers are the problem, and they need to be shamed and be refused service. The instigators of conflict, whoever they may be, should be shamed and refused service. Take your bullshit outside seems like a pretty reasonable policy. It seems pretty simple. ALL customers should let the business enforce their own rules, and that’s that.

    If you’re a customer, it’s not your place to approach another random customer and start a conflict. Don’t.

  3. Manny says:

    Who can trust white supremacy fascists to do what is good for the public? Why would a fascist governor allow them carte blanche to do so?

  4. Lobo says:

    IN DEFENSE OF COMMUNITY SELF-DEFENSE THROUGH SHAMING

    “If you’re a customer, it’s not your place to approach another random customer and start a conflict. Don’t.”

    Says who? – Who to tell me where my place is?

    To be candid, the German streak in me sees rationality and efficiency in public shaming: it’s preferable for everybody to “police” everybody else (even if only with a Merkel-style eye roll) and it can be done in real time on site, directly and immediately in response to the problem behavior. And you can modulate your tone and style to fit the occasion and the person committing the infraction.

    Frowning on and calling out misbehavior by by-standers is efficient. No need to call the (real) police to enforce the peace (or eject the misbehaving customer). If folks were to thus encouraging each other to refrain from socially unacceptable (and potentially harmful) behavior, there is less need to waste so much money on uniformed tax-funded police (or private security for that matter). And you don’t even get to the dicey issues of abuse of the state’s power and monopoly on the use of coercive force.

    That said, you can’t easily change community norms and behavior, of course, so the policy relevance of this idea may not be obvious. Still, it should be part of the discussion: How can the community itself promote good behavior and restrain and discourage reckless and egotistical people in public spaces through social pressure/shaming?

    And perhaps our educational system should focus less on individual rights, and more on each person’s responsibilities to the community for the wellbeing of the community. We would all be better off.

  5. Flypusher says:

    I agree with Lobo here. The people who refuse to act like adults are running amuck, and if there is no pushback, no consequences, they will only get worse. The cleanup here won’t be easy, but appeasement gets you nowhere good.

    Also we need public praising/ rewards for the businesses and people who do the right thing. Positive reinforcement also works.

  6. Jason Hochman says:

    I am tired of all of the hypocrites, who actually really kill people on the roads and destroy the planet with their cars, all whining that they might get a bad cold, just maybe, just slightly possibly because someone didn’t wear an old T shirt over their nose. Until you drive your car directly to the scrap yard, and leave it there, I can’t take seriously your crying and public praise/shame for wearing a mask. I like the public rewards program. Here’s a cookie that you can’t eat with your mask on, but it’s the thought that counts!

    We should also consider the possibility of going back to prohibition. The bars have been packing them in, and how many of the night clubs have I read about, over the past several months that have been filled to capacity with no masks, and no stickers on the floor, etc.

  7. voter_worker says:

    I have had the first Moderna shot and have reschduled dental and optical appts till two weeks or later after the second one. Also will stay on course until some time in summer with not going to any business except a restaurant with a huge outside deck (shout out to Beck’s Prime on Augusta Dr). The hassle of encountering other people in any context is just not worth any potential ” benefit”. Groceries can be delivered. Bars are irrelevant. So are museums, movies, plays, sports events…you name it. I feel sorry for employees and businesses who have to cope with this madness. I’m lucky to be able to withdraw from it all until we have vaccination critical mass.

  8. SocraticGadfly says:

    It does no good, as both Wally and Tom Thumb have proven to me in the north exurban Metroplex, but “Yell”?

    Hellz, this is what a smartphone is for. Take photos! Post to Twitter and / or FB.

    Tom Thumb corporate responded, said Gainesville would contact me, but it did not.

    Wally never responded.

    I still shoot the photos.

    Shoot and shame.

    I see Jason has moved from lying to strawmanning. I’m sure he gets worse the more I see of him.

  9. Jason Hochman says:

    I don’t lie, and this idea of “disinformation” is a media tactic used to promote an agenda.

    Straw manning is a real argument. Let’s create a big whining (for political purposes) about Operation Stay Safe, but, meanwhile, let’s ignore the real safety problems.

    Wearing an old scrap of T-shirt might help a little, but it is not the miraculous magic that the media tells us that it is. It’s not going to save “tens of thousands of lives.” If you care about Operation Stay Safe, you need to get off the political posturing and take real steps to keep us safe.

    And, if you care about lying, you need to fact check the title of this post, “mask less mandate.” There is no mask less mandate. That is a lie. The mandate is going away. There will be choice. IF you want the government to tell us what to do every step of the way, then you should vote Republican, and they will tell us what we can and can’t do with their fascist tendencies.

  10. Manny says:

    Jason, you are a compulsive liars. I have pointed your lies out in prior postings.

    I used to work downtown and used Metro, so not sure what you are ranting about.

    Masks work to keep people safe, like seat belts their should be a fine for failure to wear.

  11. Bill Daniels says:

    Wolf,

    Something I have learned through life experience over the years….you’re not going to win an argument about proper behavior with someone just randomly out and about in public.

    Want to know what MY pet peeve is? Want to know what really ticks off Bill? Littering and illegal dumping. I watch people literally drop trash, and think nothing about it. I used to pick it up for them and hand it to them, and briefly explain the concept of what a trash can is for. You know what happened literally EVERY single time I attempted to publicly educate/shame a litterbug? They all just threw their trash on the ground….AGAIN, and then we exchanged some 4 letter words. I’m a big guy, I was probably more intimidating when I was younger and…..I couldn’t make anyone understand why tossing their trash out on the ground was something they shouldn’t do.

    What did I accomplish? Nothing! All I did was potentially expose myself to people who might very well have the equivalent of road rage, and get into a physical confrontation. And here’s the thing about your plan….presumably the point of confronting free breathers is because you’re worried that 1) they have the Wu flu, and 2) you don’t want to contract it from them.

    So your great plan is to walk up to them and confront them face to face? Your great plan is to confront them, so they can raise their voice right in front of you without the mask, so spittle will fly directly on you? Do you think this makes you safer than just avoiding that person who is currently not talking at all?

    But let’s be honest here. It’s not really about safety for you, it’s about compliance, it’s about subjugation. You believe we should all show fealty to the state by having healthy people pretend to be diseased, and you want to enjoy the personal satisfaction of trying to subjugate others with the force of your personal will.

    Good luck with that; let us know how it goes for you in practice. I suspect it will go just about as well as my efforts to get people to stop littering.

  12. Manny says:

    Bill, not sure what being “I am a big guy” has anything to do with anything. I taught in some of the schools with worse reputations. Not unusual that half my students had felony convictions. There was one very small guy in one of my classes, and nobody bothered him. I asked him why everyone left him alone, and he stated they all know that I will not hesitate to shoot them.

    We all know that “Illegal” dumping is not your pet peeve.

    As to Lobo wanting “subjugation”, that is what you and your fella fascists want. I don’t consider Lobo in that group.

  13. […] is still needed at this time. But that will eventually decrease, as the vaccination numbers swell. We just had to wait a little longer. We can and must still do the right thing in the meantime. Vox, the Chron, and Daily Kos have […]