'A real easy decision': Austin businesses plan to continue requiring face coverings despite lifting of state mask mandate

Austin and Travis County plan to continue enforcement of local mask mandates beyond March 10. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin and Travis County plan to continue enforcement of local mask mandates beyond March 10. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Austin and Travis County plan to continue enforcement of local mask mandates beyond March 10. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Although Austin and Travis County plan to continue enforcement of local mask mandates, March 10 marks the first day that Texans are no longer required by state law to wear masks to combat COVID-19. According to the state orders made by Gov. Greg Abbott on March 2, Texans can choose not to wear masks in public, and businesses and restaurants can all open at 100% capacity.

A survey of Texas restaurants showed that 70% will continue to require at least their employees to wear masks to work, according to the Texas Restaurant Association.

After Abbott announced the mask order would be lifted, Nervous Charlie’s bagel shop in Austin took to social media to share that the restaurant would continue to require masks. On Facebook, the business said that it does not plan to change safety measures any time soon.

“For us it was a real easy decision,” Nervous Charlie's co-owner Chris Cunningham told Community Impact Newspaper. “In March last year we switched to a to-go-only model that has been working, and our dining room has been completely closed. When the governor lifted the mask mandate, we knew we were not going to be changing anything at all.”

Cunningham said that with less than 10% of Texans fully vaccinated and without his staff being eligible to receive vaccines themselves, he was uncomfortable making any changes to the safety practices that have been in place.

“We’re not ready to open up the dining room, especially given the current state of Texas where there hasn’t been a big change in terms of people being vaccinated yet,” he said. “More importantly, our staff still hasn’t had the ability to get vaccinated. Until essential workers in the service industry get into the vaccination phase, I don’t think we’d consider opening up our dining room. We need to keep our staff safe.”

More than 30 local music venues and businesses have joined in solidarity to form the Safe In Sound initiative, which promotes safe practices at participating businesses that are choosing to continue requiring masks in Austin.

According to a news release announcing the initiative, businesses will continue accommodating social distancing, requiring staff and customers to wear face coverings, and committing to sanitation practices and making hand sanitizer available.

“After hearing from countless workers about the new level of fear that this new mandate has instilled upon those who work and perform within the [Red River Cultural District], I refuse to stand by and not stand up for what I, and many others like me, believe to be right,” said Cody Cowan, Red River Cultural District executive director, in the release. “We hope that these collective actions send a strong message to the public that although we want to reopen, we will only do so in a manner that provides a safe environment for all.”

Cunningham said at first he was concerned that some customers may respond negatively to the decision, but soon, feedback online was overwhelmingly positive. Although there may be some individuals who try to pick up orders without masks and are upset in the coming weeks, he said he knows the restaurant is making the right decision.

“There's no need to kind of push the envelope and open up soon and put our employees and our customers at risk,” he said. “Given that the mask mandate is still required in the county, hopefully that helps discourage people who are kind of tired of wearing them and were thinking of not bringing them.”
By Nicholas Cicale
Nick has been with Community Impact Newspaper since 2016, working with the Lake Travis-Westlake and Southwest Austin-Dripping Springs editions. He previously worked as a reporter in Minnesota and earned a degree from Florida State University.


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