Texans divided as state prepares to lift Covid restrictions

Governor Greg Abbott announced that coronavirus measures such as compulsory masks will be lifted on March 10

AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 03: Customers leave Walmart on March 3, 2021 in Austin, Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott announced today that the state will end its mask mandate and allow businesses to reopen at 100 percent capacity on March 10.   Montinique Monroe/Getty Images/AFP
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Corey Schleich’s three-year-old daughter becomes anxious when surrounded by strangers without masks.

It is a strange consequence of an early childhood spent in a pandemic.

For much of the past year, Texas has been under a statewide mask mandate that required citizens to wear face coverings while in closed spaces.

It also reduced indoor capacity for businesses to 75 per cent, all in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

But on March 10 those restrictions will be removed, as Governor Greg Abbott has issued an executive order rescinding a majority of the Covid-19 restrictions.

“People and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate,” Mr Abbott said on March 2 in Lubbock, Texas.

He said increased vaccinations and declining case numbers were behind the ending of the mandate.

Ms Schleich called the governor’s decision to lift restrictions “reckless and irresponsible”, and expressed concern about the health of her family and community.

“It feels like a slap in the face to our essential workers, to our doctors and front-line workers who have been dealing with this for a year now,” she said.

Ms Schleich is not alone. The move goes against the advice of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the main US health authority.

It also prompted a response from President Joe Biden, who said the US was on the cusp of changing the nature of the disease as the campaign to vaccinate millions of Americans advances.

Biden: 'Last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking' in response to Texas lifting mask rules

Biden: 'Last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking' in response to Texas lifting mask rules

"The last thing you need is Neanderthal thinking, that in the meantime, everything's fine, take off your mask, forget it," Mr Biden said. “It still matters.”

Texas is the most populous state to lift Covid-19 restrictions in the US. The move has been met with resistance from businesses.

“We believe a mask on each of us is a win for all of us and urge businesses to continue implementing measures that protect both employees and patrons,” said Laura Huffman, president and chief executive of the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

But the Texas Restaurant Association welcomed the move.

"We're excited and grateful because it's a step forward," Kelsey Erickson Streufert, its vice president of government relations, told The National.

"This has been a year of extreme challenges and difficulties for so many, especially in the restaurant sector."

Ms Streufert estimated that between 20 and 25 per cent of restaurants have not survived the pandemic.

She said her association encouraged restaurants to continue to enforce the mask law, to a point.

“We recommend that restaurants require their employees to wear face coverings and then we recommended that customers be encouraged to wear face coverings when they aren’t seated at their table," Ms Streufert said.

Roxanne Montgomery said she was excited to support her local businesses and help them to recover.

“I’m going to continue to go and spend money out at our local places and potentially help businesses and families in our community come out of whatever financial situations they might have got into with all the rules and mandates that came with Covid,” Ms Montgomery said.

A behaviour analyst in the Houston area, she never supported the mask mandate.

“I didn't feel it was something the government should have decided for me,” said Ms Montgomery, 31, who has only worn masks when required to.

“I’m excited I can go out and not maybe get a sideways look for not wearing a mask."

Texas, a state long defined by its frontier nature and individualistic culture has struggled with the mask mandate.

The decision to lift Covid-19 restrictions while the virus is still affecting Texans has forced Ms Schleich and her family to think hard about their future in the state.

“My husband and I have been talking for about six months to move out of Texas," she said.

"We do love Texas, we love Dallas, but all of the political alignments, we find we don’t align as well as we did when we were younger and more conservative."

Until they make a final decision, the whole family will keep wearing masks and avoid going out as much as possible.