Mixed reviews pour in from Houston-area business owners on CDC mask guidance

Shelley Childers Image
Wednesday, July 28, 2021
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"First thoughts are ... I've seen this movie before," said one small business owner, who hopes this guidance won't impact his business.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Amid a resurgence of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now asking those in high-spread areas to mask up.

"First thoughts are ... I've seen this movie before," said small business owner Al Jara.

His neighborhood bar, the Marquis II located near Bissonnet and Kirby, is still on the rebound after being shut down for months in 2020.

The guidance from the CDC comes after Gov. Greg Abbott barred any public entity from mask requirements, putting small businesses on the hook for policy decisions again.

READ ALSO: Gov. Greg Abbott says he won't impose new mask mandate despite increasing COVID-19 cases

"It's difficult to put it on us to have to enforce it with our customers or anyone that comes in the door," said Jara. "We're in the hospitality industry, which means we're supposed to hospitable."

Out in Waller County, another small business owner said he's over it.

"It's been a really long year," said Marcus Wunderle.

His brewery and taproom, the Baa Baa Brewhouse, followed the state mask mandate for months, but he said they will not require them after the recent CDC guidance.

"It's very uncomfortable," he said. "People are hostile, and we're just not going to deal with it."

The vaccination rate in Waller County is one of the lowest in the Houston-area, but like the brewery, the Iron Horse Saloon in Brookshire said they will refrain from requiring masks again.

"Being out here in the country, our numbers were not very high," said Keri Robinson, the co-owner of the saloon. "Mostly, the people that were coming in were my regulars and we spent all of COVID together anyways."

In neighboring Fort Bend County, where vaccinations are some of the highest in Texas, restaurant owner Alex Marini is only taking orders for take-out and is still asking customers to mask up.

"We continue to require the mask," said Marini, the owner of The Original Marini's Empanada House in Katy. "Even though we have our vaccines, again, you don't know the new variant or what is going on. You don't know if everyone is vaccinated or not."

Marini's been able to keep his eight employees on payroll full-time, but the mask decision has come with a price.

"Some people are upset. Some people haven't come back, but our health is most important," he said.

Citing new information about the ability of the delta variant to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.

The new guidance follows recent decisions in Los Angeles and St. Louis to revert to indoor mask mandates amid a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations that have been especially bad in the South. The country is averaging more than 57,000 cases a day and 24,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Most new infections in the U.S. continue to be among unvaccinated people. But "breakthrough" infections, which generally cause milder illness, can occur in vaccinated people.

When earlier strains of the virus predominated, infected vaccinated people were found to have low levels of virus and were deemed unlikely to spread the virus much, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

The AP contributed to this report.

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