Texas Executive Order Reopens Texas Businesses to 100% Capacity and Lifts Mask Mandate

Local restaurants respond on social media

Beginning next Wednesday, March 10, Texas will lift its statewide mask mandate and allow all businesses to fully reopen and operate at 100% capacity, announced Gov. Greg Abbott in a press conference earlier this afternoon.

Qualitative Real-Time Schlieren and Shadowgraph Imaging of Human Exhaled Airflows: An Aid to Aerosol Infection Control (Photo by https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Face_masks_during_the_COVID-19_pandemic)

Currently, most businesses, including restaurants, are allowed to operate at 75% capacity unless COVID-19 hospitalizations account for 15% of regional hospital capacity for seven consecutive days, per Abbott's GA-32 executive order issued last fall.

Abbott's new executive order GA-34 effectively rescinds most of the governor's earlier COVID-19-related orders, including an earlier rule in which Texas bars were allowed to reopen at 50% beginning in October, but only if cleared by county officials first. Although Travis County did not approve reopening bars under that earlier rule, Abbott's new executive order means Austin-area bars can reopen at full capacity beginning next Wednesday. The new rule, however, states businesses are allowed to "limit capacity or implement additional safety protocols" and won't be barred from requiring employees or customers to wear masks. The order also specifies that "under no circumstance" can a county judge jail someone for not following their orders. They also cannot impose penalties on people for not wearing masks or on businesses for not requiring masks for customers or employees.

Effectively, this means that restaurants, for example, can still require masks, social distancing, and reduced capacity, but they will not be backed by legal enforcement of such restrictions.

The governor’s Texas Independence Day announcement comes less than two weeks after winter storms knocked out power and water for millions of Texans statewide during sub-freezing temperatures, and many have still not had services restored. Just today, H-E-B announced that they have lifted product restrictions that were set in place due to storm-related supply chain disruptions. Several outlets, including the Texas Tribune, report that the grocery chain will require employees and vendors to wear masks, but will only encourage customers: "H-E-B will still require all our Partners and vendors to wear masks while at work, and we urge all customers to please wear a mask when in our stores."

And as of today, less than 13% of Texans have received at least one dose of the vaccine; less than 7% have been fully inoculated, according to the New York Times interactive map. Texas ranks 48th in the country for administered vaccine doses, and will now be the most populous state without a mask mandate. As of today, only health care workers, people in long-term care facilities, people 65 years and older, and people 16 years and older with specific high-risk conditions are eligible for the vaccine. Currently, hospitality workers and grocery store employees are not specifically designated as qualified to receive the vaccine.

Local restaurants immediately took to social media to express their thoughts, and largely reinforce their existing business protocols and rules. The majority are asking customers to comply with mask requirements.

Read more about Abbott’s mask reversal in this week’s issue, online and on newsstands on Thursday.

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