TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Wednesday marks the end of Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask mandate that had been in place since last summer due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While the order from the governor takes away criminal penalties for not wearing a mask, businesses and schools throughout the East Texas area have chosen to keep the requirement in place.
Last week, Gov. Abbott announced from Lubbock that he was allowing his executive order to expire and that businesses could open up to full capacity, saying “It’s time to open up Texas 100%.”
Abbott spoke to small business and community leaders of the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce at Montelongo’s Mexican Restaurant, where he pointed to declining numbers and increased vaccinations as a reason to get “back to normalcy.”
Despite this want to return to normalcy, dozens of East Texas school districts, including Tyler and Longview ISDs, will keep the requirement in place through the end of the school year.
Sweet Gourmet is one of many businesses trying to find the right balance between profits and protection.
“We’ve had people in the past that are shopping, and someone walks in without a mask. They put their product down, and they leave,” said Pam Gabriel, Sweet Gourmet owner. “These are some of the things that we battle as store owners, not just my store but all the stores in Tyler. You can’t please everybody, and we’re trying to.”
The well-known store will continue to require masks, but they will respect customer’s wishes if they decide to ditch their face coverings.
Brookshire’s Grocery Company announced that they would the mask requirement for employees. While customers are “strongly encouraged” to wear them, they are not required for them.
According to a UT Tyler/Dallas Morning News poll released this week, the vast majority of Texans said that they wore a mask for personal reasons, not because of the mandate.
“The public’s attitude toward wearing a mask strongly suggests that masks are not going away, as 78% said that they wear a mask for personal reasons,” said Mark Owens, UT Tyler assistant professor of political science and poll director.
On Tuesday, Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran that they would stop requiring masks in all non-judicial county buildings, but that they were still “highly encouraged.” He also added that temperature checks will remain in place.
The dropping of the mask mandate by Abbott came after intense pressure from the ultra-conservative side of his party to allow Texans to decide for themselves to wear masks and social distant.
Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), the Vice President of the Texas House Freedom Caucus, filed a bill two weeks ago that would strip any future governor or local leader from instituting a mask mandate during a statewide emergency, unless the legislature passes a statute allowing it.
The Tyler representative’s bills go after the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, which helps state and local officials better coordinate resources during disasters. However, the act also gives the governor brief increases in power.
Section 12 of the law states that “The governor may issue executive orders, proclamations, and regulations and amend or rescind them. Executive orders, proclamations, and regulations have the force and effect of law.”
H.B. 2097 would amend this clause to include that a governor, or any other lower local official, may not issue an executive order or proclamation that “requires a person to wear a mask or personal protective equipment unless expressly provided by statute.”
H.B. 2098 would completely repeal Section 173 of the Texas Disaster Act, which criminalizes “failure to comply with a rule, order, or ordinance” that is adopted under a disaster declaration. The maximum penalty allowed under Texas law is a $1,000 fine or six months in jail.
Under Abbott’s mask mandate that was created through executive order back in July, first-time violators would be issued a verbal or written warning. Subsequent violators would have been fined $250