Above, shoppers at the San Marcos Premium Outlets stand in a line some with masks on and others without. Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the state's mask mandate on March 10. Daily Record photo by Lance Winter
Earlier this week Texas’ COVID-19 mask mandate became a monumental footnote in the state's 175- year history.
Executive Order GA-34, lifting the mask mandate in Texas and increasing the capacity of all businesses and facilities in the state to 100%, was delivered by Gov. Greg Abbott on March 2. Since then, opinions have been both passionate and varied as the mandate was lifted on March 10.
“In essence, GA-34 puts the decision making about COVID-19 safety precautions in the hands of the people,” San Marcos Director of Public Safety Chase Stapp said. “Business owners and those otherwise in control of commercial establishments and other entities may choose to adopt more strict safety protocols for their establishments than those found in the governor’s order.”
Stapp cautioned people entering those establishments that they should understand the rules put in place at any given establishment are within the rights of that establishment to create and enforce.
“Think back to the days when many businesses displayed signs that said, ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service.’ It’s much the same with masks after GA-34 took effect,” he said. “People should honor the rules put in place by establishments they frequent, or risk being asked to leave. If a customer is asked to leave a premises by someone in control of that place and refuses to do so, they could face a charge for criminal trespass.”
Stapp said trespassing is most often a Class B misdemeanor in Texas, which means it could result in a custodial arrest and a trip to the jail for booking and an appointment with the magistrate.
“We certainly hope none of our residents would push this issue to that point, but it is important to note what the extreme could be,” Stapp added. “One point I made during the San Marcos Area Chamber Zoom event is that the best way to disagree with the policies of a business regardless of what those policies are is to take your business elsewhere.”
During his remarks on March 2, the governor discussed the advancements Texas has made that allowed the state to open fully and lift the mask mandate — noting the rapid increase of vaccines. More than 5 million vaccine shots have been administered to Texans, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Now the state is administering almost one million shots each week.
“I think that we are going in the right direction by getting people vaccinated and getting the economy moving again,” said San Marcos Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jason Mock. “If you don't feel comfortable in a place, then don't go. The only way our economy is going to continue to move forward is with consumer confidence. If consumer confidence in your eyes means continue to wear a mask, then wear that mask.”
Owner of Mochas and Javas, Kevin Carswell, said he’s glad his business is now allowed to make a choice regarding masks. He said Mochas and Javas has decided to continue donning masks.
“Yes it's been a difficult past 12 months for all citizens,” Carswell said. “Since this weekend of March 12th it is the one year anniversary when it first hit Central Texas. As far as the mandate being lifted, I'm happy to see we now have a choice, freedom of choice, to wear a mask or at least allowing business to make this choice for their team and guests. “Thus far, other than myself, the staff are still choosing to wear a mask 100% of the time. I would say about 96% of our guests are still wearing masks when in line ordering or waiting for an order," Carswell added. "On a conference call this past week daily covid hospital rate in Hays County was at 5.1% and this morning we are at 4.6%. I pray that these numbers continue to come down and believe they will."
Above, patrons at the San Marcos Premium Outlets walk around the outlet mall on Friday. Daily Record photo by Lance Winter
Brian Olson, owner of Premier Cuts Hair Salon in San Marcos, said it wasn’t easy with his employees having differing viewpoints on the subject.
“Some were excited to be able to take a mask off and some were really concerned. We knew no matter how we handle this we weren’t going to make everyone happy,” Olson said. “Since we opened back up, after being closed two months, we’ve had to turn away customers for not wearing masks which has been tough with sales being way down.”
He explained that salons are regulated by the Texas Department of Regulation (TDLR), which issued extra guidelines such as everyone wearing masks and having limited people in the salon prior to the state making that a requirement.
“TDLR decided to lift those restrictions as well, not giving us much time to adapt and update our staff of what our procedures would be,” he said. “We decided to require all staff to continue to wear masks and will keep the limited seating sections in the salon while adding seating outside the salon.”
He said regarding the masks on customers they decided to not enforce the mandate but strongly encouraged customers to wear a mask during their service.
“If a customer does not wear a mask, we offer a complimentary mask when they walk in,” Olson added. “So far, we have had a few customers come in without a mask and after asking if they would like a complimentary mask, they were kind to put one on. We have not had an issue with any customers by use not making is a requirement to wear a mask.”
Restaurateur Harlen Scott, owner of the wildly popular restaurant, Industry, made similar remarks asking patrons to be patient just a little longer.
“Let's just wear the mask a little longer,” Scott said. “Over the months people have grown to be very tolerant of one another so our plans are to follow the lead of our customers. If some one comes in not wearing a mask, am I going to get into a fight with them? Probably not. But we're going to continue to ask politely, please wear a mask. I’m grateful to our customers. We can get through this.”
Readers of the Daily Records’ social platforms had plenty to say about the mask ordinance on Facebook and Twitter.
“I will not give my business to anyone that doesn’t enforce masking,” Danielle Corrick said on Twitter. “It shows a lack of integrity and intelligence. If you don’t understand that Covid is airborne and masks protect, you aren’t getting my support. I certainly will not risk my health for you.”
S. Ann Lawrence said she was surprised to see face masks still being worn around town.
“Much to my surprise, everyone at the Post Office had a mask on and since HEB was enforcing its own mask mandate, so was everyone there" Lawrence said on Facebook. "I stopped at my favorite pizza parlor — which also is enforcing a mask mandate. I asked the staff how it was going — no surprise there that they had some customers who objected to being mask, but all in all, far better than I expected.”
Tess Fornander said she's glad the governor made the decision he did.
“Yes — different views is the key. Let’s just hope being different is not a reason to shame," Fornander said on Facebook. "So glad the state mandate is over, and the mandate can be done by the people or businesses. Freedom isn’t free.”
According to the governor’s orders, if COVID-19 hospitalizations in any of the 22 hospital regions in Texas get above 15% of the hospital bed capacity in that region for seven straight days, a county judge in that region may use COVID-19 mitigation strategies. However, county judges may not impose jail time for not following COVID-19 orders nor may any penalties be imposed for failing to wear a face mask. If restrictions are imposed at a county level, those restrictions may not include reducing capacity to less than 50% for any type of entity.