The parking lot was packed at The Shops at La Cantera, a partially outdoor mall in north-west San Antonio, on the day that Texas officially ended mandatory mask wearing. But it was clear not everyone was ready to embrace the change, with most people who wandered in and out of stores still donning face coverings, and many shops requiring customers to wear one before entering.
Governor Greg Abbott announced an end to the statewide mask mandate he issued over the summer on 2 March, and on Wednesday, the new rules took effect. This means that not only are Texans no longer required to wear a mask, but stores, restaurants, and even bars are fully open at maximum capacity despite the fact that only 16% of adults in the state are fully vaccinated.
But a few businesses at the mall – including Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret, and L’Occitane en Provence – took it upon themselves to defy the new rules, posting signs informing customers that their policies are not in line with those of the state government. One reads: “Your mask must cover your nose and mouth at all times. No food or drink allowed.” Another says: “No mask, no entry. We welcome 4 customers inside at a time. Thank you!”
Eryn Louis sat at a table in the outdoor food court across from her sister. Before agreeing to be interviewed, both women ask for a moment to put their face masks on – a clear indication of how they feel about the governor’s new order.
“I absolutely hate it,” Louis said, referring to Abbott’s decision to end the statewide mask mandate. “I was at home with my mom when I found out about it. I almost wanted to cry because even though I’m double vaccinated, I’m still high risk since I’m type 1 diabetic. Our grandfather is high risk. My stepdad is high risk.”
Louis and her sister said they had already witnessed a non-cooperative customer defy a store’s mask policy.
“Today, when we were leaving Target there was a lady who was getting mad because Target is still requiring people to wear masks,” Louis said. “She said, ‘Target is not a Texas corporation. You don’t have to do this.’ And of course she wasn’t wearing a mask when she walked in.”
Louis is both a student and a server in a restaurant. While she is completing her classes online, she must be physically present at work where she has been most at risk throughout the pandemic.
“We used to [require masks]. Now our sign on the door just says we encourage them. Even last year, my managers cared more about the guest experience than they did about being mask police,” Louis said.
Louis said even before the mask mandate was lifted, she and other servers were told not to say anything to customers if they weren’t wearing a mask, since they would just take it off at their tables anyway.
“I’ve had one customer come in who was a doctor. He was terrified of sitting by anyone because he’s seen Covid and what it could do.”
Ayana Delvalle works at the cash register at the Pottery Barn, one of the many shops in the mall that is still enforcing a mask policy.
“Pottery Barn’s policy from the beginning has always been to cover your nose and mouth from the moment you walk into the store until the time you leave,” Delvalle. “Even more so recently, we have incorporated no food or drink inside the store to prevent people from pulling their masks off.”
Devalle says she is not yet vaccinated because she is still too nervous.
“Getting the vaccination does scare me a little bit just because it’s still a little soon. I just want to wait it out and see how the more of the population reacts to it before I make that decision myself.”
However, she says she will continue to wear a mask in public.
“For me personally, it’s everyone’s choice but I would hope people would make the right decision as far as other people’s safety and health,” Devalle said.
Mahak Ahsan is a student pharmacist in the city. She expressed frustration that the state government is impeding the work she and her colleagues are doing to administer vaccines, and educate people about the benefits of immunizations and wearing masks.
“No one has any respect for the healthcare workers. Not even just for us but nurses and doctors – everyone who works so tirelessly. We’re the ones who are around the sick people the most so it’s just a slap in our face,” Ahsan said. “It just really sucks.”
Ahsan believes the mask mandate lift is “a very bad idea”.
“Majority of Texas hasn’t even been vaccinated. That’s insane,” Ahsan said. “I don’t feel comfortable knowing that so many people out here aren’t vaccinated and are walking around without masks.”
Ahsan said she was angry and concerned because while she is fully vaccinated, her parents only just received their first shots this week. She believes vaccines should be available and accessible to everyone now that masks are no longer required.
“They did a horrible job of trying to give the [vaccines] to the people who need it the most. You see these teachers still don’t have it,” she said. “At this point, it’s every man for himself. Everyone needs to have gotten it by now.”
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