A day after Gov. Greg Abbott announced he was ending the statewide face covering mandate and occupancy limits, Highland Lakes businesses and organizations are weighing what it means for them and their customers.
“Right now, I’m compiling as much information as I can. I’m visiting with my employees to get their feedback,” said Dave Plante of Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls. “I’m not committing to what we’re going to do, but the safety of our guests and staff is our top priority.”
During a Lubbock Chamber of Commerce luncheon March 2, Abbott announced that the statewide COVID-19 restrictions would end March 10. The governor issued a face covering order in July 2020, while varying occupancy restrictions started last spring.
Abbott cited a decline in recent active COVID-19 cases and the availability of vaccines as major reasons for his decision. However, he reminded Texans that the virus that causes COVID-19 has not disappeared and urged them to continue practicing safe behaviors to slow the spread, including wearing masks.
He also said that businesses could still require employees and customers to wear face coverings and follow other safety protocols.
Marble Falls Public Library Director Amanda Rose said the library will continue to keep the safety of its patrons and staff in mind going forward.
“We will continue to offer a safe environment for patrons to visit as people are waiting for vaccines,” she stated in an email. “We know what it takes to operate safely and will continue to implement safe practices, including mask requirements for visitors and staff, social distancing, and quarantining of returned books.
“We feel it is our personal responsibility for the community and will continually reevaluate our safety guidelines based on the current local COVID-19 situation and adjust our actions accordingly,” Rose added.
H-E-B is taking a similar stance, though the Texas grocery chain said it will not require customers wear face coverings but rather encourage them to do so.
“Although there is no longer a statewide mask order (as of March 10), H-E-B believes it is important that masks be worn in public spaces until more Texans and our partners (employees) have access to the COVID-19 vaccine,” an H-E-B statement read. “As an essential service provider during the pandemic, 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.”
According to the Texas State Department of Health Services, 1.9 million Texans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of March 2 and another 3.7 million have received the first dose.
At Valentine Lakeside in Kingsland, co-owner Pat Muller said the state’s changes don’t directly impact their operations much.
“Valentine has been fortunate because we’re a big, open campus, and we didn’t lose a lot of business,” she said. “We did lose a few family reunions last year, but we did get some new people who were looking for a place to escape to.”
Where Muller saw the benefit of Abbott’s announcement is allowing area businesses and restaurants to open at 100 percent capacity.
“Our guests also come here to take advantage of the Hill Country and all there is to do here like Sweet Berry Farm, the restaurants, the wineries, the distilleries, and all those,” she said. “Those being more open, I believe, helps them and Valentine and the other resorts as well.”
Government officials are asking Texans to respect the decisions of businesses and organizations in regard to COVID-19 protocols, and Abbott emphasized during his announcement that individual responsibility remains.
“Today’s announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year,” he said March 2 in Lubbock. “Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others. With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny.”