San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff are criticizing Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to lift COVID-19 mask mandates and open the state “100%.”
The pair said allowing businesses and other venues to operate at full capacity is unwise, adding safeguards need to stay in place to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Abbott’s executive order to lift capacity limits at businesses, as well as a decision to rescind a statewide mandate to wear protective masks while near others, both take effect Wednesday, March 10.
Speaking to the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, March 2, Abbott said Texas has shown great progress in protecting residents one year into the global pandemic by making available vaccines, therapeutic treatments and personal protection equipment.
Abbott said businesses may still chose to impose some safety protocols for employees and/or customers.
On social media, Nirenberg said, “Opening everything to 100% while simultaneously nixing our state’s mask mandate is a huge mistake.”
He added, “COVID-19 is still widespread in our community and infecting far too many vulnerable residents. Please join me in continuing to wear a mask. We’re not out of the woods yet.”
Abbott added if hospitalizations return to 15% for a minimum of seven days in a particular region, a county judge may impose limited restrictions, such as keeping business capacity at 50%, but there will be no penalties including jail for disobeying such an order.
Wolff claimed Abbott undercut local leaders’ authority.
“(Abbott) didn’t give us authority to really do anything,” Wolff said of the governor’s declaration. “It’s all meaningless.”
During their nightly COVID-19 briefing Tuesday, Nirenberg and Wolff said even after the state lifts its mandates, San Antonio city and Bexar County facilities will still require employees and visitors to wear a mask until further notice. The same goes for the San Antonio International Airport. Also, mass gatherings will continue to be limited at city and county parks.
Several businesses have indicated they will continue following some kind of safety protocol.
H-E-B announced employees and vendors must still wear masks, and the store will encourage customers to do the same.
The San Antonio River Walk Association said while operating at regular capacity will help bars, restaurants, hotels and shops hit hard by the pandemic, the group will encourage visitors to continue to observe safety guidelines.
District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño called Abbott’s decision “premature” and said it “will make Texans less safe.”
Treviño said despite San Antonio having one of the lowest COVID positivity rates among major Texas metropolitan areas, there’s been an increase in the local seven-day average number of probable cases, and that demand for vaccines still outweighs the supply. Additionally, variants of COVID-19 have been confirmed in parts of Texas.
Treviño also expressed concern about lifting mask mandates and building capacity limits on the eve of students enjoying Spring Break.
“I encourage you to use your best judgment and continue to wear a mask, wash your hands often, and maintain social distancing when in public,” he added.
Abbott asked Texans to continue physical distancing and proper sanitation.
“Today’s announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year,” he said. “Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others.”
Some local business leaders praised the governor’s action.
“We applaud Gov. Abbott for giving businesses the flexibility to make the decisions they feel are necessary to keep their employees, clients and customers safe and their businesses flourishing,” said Richard Perez, president and CEO of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
“We have seen improving COVID-19 numbers in the San Antonio region, and we are confident that our business community will continue to do everything possible to ensure a safe and healthy environment for all.”