H-E-B, the largest grocery store chain in Texas, will ask — but will no longer require — customers to wear masks in its stores amid the ongoing pandemic.
The San Antonio company’s decision comes after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ended the statewide mask mandate, which has been on the books for eight months. Citing the ramp-up of COVID-19 vaccinations and the decline in COVID-19 cases, Abbott announced March 2 that he was lifting the mask order and would let businesses and facilities operate at 100 percent capacity. Both of those steps take effect on Wednesday, March 10.
In explaining its position on masks, H-E-B issued this statement March 2:
Although there is no longer a statewide mask order, H-E-B believes it is important that masks be worn in public spaces until more Texans and our Partners have access to the COVID-19 vaccine. An essential service provider during the pandemic, H-E-B is focused on the health and safety of our Partners and customers. H-E-B will still require all our Partners and vendors to wear masks while at work, and we urge all customers to please wear a mask when in our stores.
On Twitter, H-E-B said that in order to protect its employees, the company “will not engage in confrontation” if shoppers choose not to wear masks inside its stores.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Travis County Judge Andy Brown, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, and Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price are among elected officials in Texas who’ve criticized Abbott’s reversal on the mask mandate. On the other hand, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley on March 2 lifted the county’s mask order, effective immediately.
On March 3, President Joe Biden ripped Abbott’s mask move as “Neanderthal thinking.”
Meanwhile, the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation praises Abbott’s decision. “With the news that Texans are successfully fighting the spread of the disease, through vaccinations and common-sense public-health practices, we can begin the business of full recovery in earnest,” Kevin Roberts, executive director of the Austin-based think tank, says in a release.
H-E-B’s new stance on masks has angered a number of customers, with some threatening to boycott the grocery chain. On social media, some shoppers are encouraging opponents of the move to pressure H-E-B into changing its mind.
Until now, H-E-B has been hailed for its pandemic response, with some fans wishing the well-run company had been in charge of the state’s power grid during the recent winter-weather disaster. On March 2, the American Customer Satisfaction Index released a study putting H-E-B in a second-place tie for the highest customer satisfaction among U.S. grocery stores.