Under the new orders in Texas and Mississippi, private businesses can maintain mask requirements. Many appeared on Wednesday to do just that, with Target and Macy’s among the largest to say face coverings would remain mandatory in Texas stores. Masks will be optional for customers in H-E-B, a popular grocery store in Texas.
Under Mississippi’s order, cities and counties can still impose local mask mandates, while in Texas, a jurisdiction can impose restrictions only if Covid-19 hospitalizations rise above a certain level. And even then, people cannot be penalized by local governments for not wearing masks.
Dr. Mary Carol Miller, a physician at Greenwood Leflore Hospital in the Mississippi Delta, said that even a lightly enforced statewide mask order was helpful, sending the message that the virus was still circulating and that masks were the best protection. Without the order, she saw weeks ahead of more sickness, hospitalizations and deaths in a part of the country where the pandemic has already been devastating.
“The light’s there at the very end of the tunnel, and now we’ve made the tunnel longer,” Dr. Miller said. “It’s foolish. It’s beyond foolish.”
In Texas, after an onslaught of challenges, from the brutal winter storm to widespread power failures to water outages across the state, some saw another factor at work in the reopening debate: politics.
“It’s pretty obvious to people who pay attention that this is just a move to change the subject from the infrastructure failures that we just saw,” said Kaitlyn Urenda-Culpepper, an El Pasoan now living in Dallas, echoing a commonly heard sentiment across the state.
But Ms. Urenda-Culpepper, whose mother died from Covid-19 in July, acknowledged that the governor had the power to make such decisions, as frustrating and enraging as they might be. And given that, there was no choice but to hope for the best.
“I don’t want him to be wrong,” she said. “But obviously for the greater good of the people, I’m like, ‘Man, you better be right and not cost us tens of thousands more people.’”
Maria Jimenez Moya reported from Houston, Campbell Robertson from Pittsburgh, Erin Coulehan from El Paso and James Dobbins from San Antonio. David Montgomery contributed reporting from Austin, Texas, Marina Trahan Martinez from Dallas and Ellen Ann Fentress from Jackson, Miss.