Texas Governor Repeals Mask Mandate
Unions say they weren't consulted and it is too early to reopen at 100%
On March 2nd 275 Texans died of COVID-19 and 2,740 contracted the virus. As these people were dying, Governor Greg Abbott held a press conference to announce that Texas would reopen at 100% and that he was ending the state’s mandate on wearing masks.
The order from Abbott goes into effect on March 10th and would make Texas the largest state in the country to not have a mask mandate. In his announcement, Abbott touted the fact that the state was giving out 1 million vaccinations a week as a reason to reopen. However, data shows that Texas currently ranks 48th in the country in terms of vaccinations with only 6.8% of the population receiving the shot.
Unions are concerned that Abbott’s order will put essential workers at risk.
“Texas had the ball on the 30-yard line in the pandemic only to see Gov. Abbott spike the ball -- again,” Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy said. “Our state’s leader just sent a strong message – not just with his words and his order but by appearing in a closed room where few people wore masks – that Texas can relax and drop key measures to stop a pandemic that has killed more than half-a-million Americans. The statewide mask mandate followed the science. Lifting the mandate does not. Working families in Texas, who have sacrificed so much to get us this far, deserve better than a governor who is about to repeat the same deadly mistake he has made before. Gov. Abbott, this isn’t a political play. It’s a matter of life and death.”
According to Lacy Wolf, the President of the Texas Gulf Coast Labor Federation, COVID cases in the state are actually higher now than when the mask mandate went into effect.
“Health care workers, firefighters, transit workers, city employees, grocery workers, and school employees - these are just some of the essential workers who have put themselves at risk to keep all of us safe and our economy on track during the past year. Greg Abbott made it clear today that he has no respect for their service and struggle.”
Wolf also said that no union leaders or worker advocates were consulted before Abbott made the decision to put their lives at risk.
Abbott’s order was not well received by teachers, who will now be forced back into the classrooms with mask less students. At the time of the order, teachers weren’t even eligible to get the vaccine. However, that changed on Wednesday after Abbott decided to make them eligible immediately following new guidance from the Biden.
“Abbott’s callous new orders throw our public schools, students, and teachers into chaos, because it leaves open the question of whether masks will be required in all schools,” Texas AFT President Zeph Capo. “TEA guidance currently says: ‘Schools are required to comply with the governor’s executive order regarding the wearing of masks.’ Meanwhile, Abbott’s new order reads: “Public schools may operate as provided by, and under the minimum standard health protocols found in guidance issued by the Texas Education Agency.”
While some schools have announced that they will continue to require masks, many have not. Some of the biggest chain stores in Texas have also announced that they will require customers to wear masks. These stores include Target, Kroger, CVS, Walgreens, Best Buy, Macy’s, JCPenney, Toyota, and GM. However, without any penalties for not wearing a mask, it is likely that many people will attempt to violate these store’s rules.
Jason Brewer, the spokesperson for the Retail Industry Leaders Association which is a retail trade group, told CNN that the move was a mistake and was premature. "Going backwards on safety measures will unfairly put retail employees back in the role of enforcing guidelines still recommended by the CDC and other public health advocates," Brewer said in an email. "It could also jeopardize the safety of pharmacies and grocers that are gearing up as vaccination centers."