Health Officials and Major Retailers Criticize Texas' Decision to Nix Mask Mandates

Sulabh Gupta

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced on Tuesday that he will be lifting the statewide COVID-19 restrictions. His decision was met with severe criticism from doctors and local officials saying it comes too soon in the fight against the virus.

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Abbott, who resisted the restrictions that were imposed early in the pandemic said in a statement on Tuesday that while the coronavirus has not disappeared, because the vaccinations are available there is no need for the mandatory “safe practices that Texans are using” during COVID-19. Other than lifting the statewide mask mandate, the executive order also increases the capacity of businesses and facilities to 100%.

Abbott said, however, that removing statewide mandates "does not end personal responsibility or the importance of caring for your family members and caring for your friends and caring for others in your community. It is just that now state mandates are no longer needed"

Abbott’s decision has been widely criticized by doctors and officials alike. President Joe Biden called the Texas decision to reopen as “Neanderthal thinking” echoing the frustration from other top COVID-19 officials that the COVID-19 numbers are just not low enough to justify relaxing restrictions especially when the government anticipates the majority of the adult population to be vaccinated by end of May this year.

Dr. Ogden, a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology described the move as “wildly premature”.

"I think it is a little too early for them to be taking away these mandates, and they need to be really clear about what is still going on with the coronavirus rather than just vaguely talking about personal responsibility. I think things need to be spelled out better. A large part of this country is still not vaccinated. Coronavirus loves that. It is easily infecting people and transmits very easily, especially these variants." said Dr. Ogden.

Dr. James McDeavitt of the Baylor College of Medicine shared the same sentiments as Dr. Ogden. McDeavitt said in an interview with NBC that “If the goal is to reach herd immunity, we are not there yet. Masking and distancing are an important bridge to herd immunity. We’re still seeing 1,000 new cases per day in Houston. We’re getting some 200 new Covid-19 patients per day in the hospitals. Yes, the numbers are down considerably, but that’s still pretty high.”

Other than the health officials, several major retailers also expressed their discontent with the decision to get rid of mandatory face masks. Many major retailers and employers aren’t ready to nix the face-covering requirements just yet.

Major retailers including Walgreens, Target, and Kroger, cited guidelines from the US Centres of Disease Control and Prevention in continuing to require masks and take protective measures to protect both workers and consumers.

"There is no change at this time to the company mask mandate policy or any current safety protocols that are in place in our stores or any work locations to protect our customers and team members. We are following current CDC and OSHA guidelines regarding safety protocols," a spokesperson for Walgreens said in an email.

CVS Health will also keep its current face-covering policy at its nationwide stores citing the "strong scientific evidence that masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19."

A spokesman for Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the US, told CBS MoneyWatch in an email that “Kroger will continue to require everyone in its stores across the country to wear masks until all its frontline grocery associates can receive the COVID-19 vaccine".

Similar statements were made by Target, Aldi, and other major retailers showing the unpopularity and disagreement with Governor Abbott’s decision.

While the doctors, major retailers, and several officials criticized Governor Abbott’s decision, others celebrated the decision to nix mandatory safety measures. Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough said in a video posted on his Facebook page, “It's been a long time coming. We can't have a healthy community without a healthy economy.”

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