After the lunch rush at Lubbock’s Montelongo’s Mexican Restaurant, about a dozen people are spread across the dining room. It’s a crowd size owner Rudy Rosales said he is comfortable with.
A week ago, to the hour, the restaurant was packed for a visit from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
“I haven’t had that many people here in a while and I still wasn’t at 75% capacity,” Rosales said.
Montelongo’s is a Lubbock institution, nearing its 50th year in business. Rosales is the third-generation to run the family restaurant. He said he was proud to host the governor last week. He showed pictures of his family with Abbott and was pleased with how much take-out the governor and his staff ordered.
Still, when Rosales agreed to host the event where Abbott announced he was opening Texas “100%,” he wasn’t told much about what to expect. Rosales knew from a news article that Abbott had teased reopening announcements soon. He expected business occupancy limits to be lifted.
“The mask mandate caught me by surprise, really,” Rosales said. “I’m still going to require them.”
Rosales is doing exactly what the states said he can, starting today — setting his own COVID-19 rules. For him, that means continuing how Montelongo’s has operated for the last year: masks and social distancing.
“I have five tables in my garage that won’t be coming out anytime soon,” the restaurateur said.
The state’s move to rescind the mask mandate and expand business capacities has drawn harsh reactions from public health officials. Along with praise from some lawmakers and business advocates. Texans are split on whether COVID protocols are being dropped too soon. Over the last week, school districts, cities and businesses have rolled out what their own guidelines will be.
Katherine Wells is the director of the City of Lubbock’s Public Health Department. She’s relieved many of Lubbock’s major businesses, including Texas Tech University and United Supermarkets, say they’ll keep precautions, like masking, in place.
“We’re not at herd immunity yet, so we need to still stay that course and wear masks, especially when we’re around individuals who are not in our family,” Wells said, “regardless whether you’re vaccinated or not.”
In Odessa, mayor Javier Joven said he’s relieved too — that things are loosening. He said COVID-19 regulations hurt his constituents, financially and psychologically. And he’s skeptical about their effectiveness.
“We still had numbers increase at the peak when the mandate was ordered,” joven recently told KERA. “So I trust the citizens of Odessa will be adult enough to take care of their personal health.”
Other cities are requiring people to keep the masks on. In a statement yesterday, the City of Austin said health authorities current rules still stand. The governor’s executive order from last week, though, specifically prohibits jurisdictions from doing that. It could lead to conflict.
“Our effort is to preserve public health and economic health,” Dr. Mark Escott, Austin’s public health authority, said at a city council meeting. “And by finding that appropriate middle ground, we can do both things well without taking too many risks.”
Some worry the governor’s decision could lead to another surge in coronavirus cases, which have been trending downward after peaking in January.
On Sunday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said now’s exactly the wrong time for this.
“Bear in mind there are five variants in the city of Houston, five, and they’re moving at a rapid rate,” Turner said, “which means we’re doing everything we can to get the shots in people’s arms as quickly as possible.”
Just over 4,700 Texans are currently hospitalized because of COVID-19. Yesterday, the state reported 167 new coronavirus deaths. More than four and a half million Texans, or about one in seven, are at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the latest data from Texas Health and Human Services.
Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.