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Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed an order that the mask mandate in place for the past year is to be fully lifted this week, and there may be no more enforcement of the requirement that the public wear masks at places of government, business and open spaces.
In Frio and La Salle counties, government offices have changed their signs to remove the order that masks be worn at all times, preferring instead to make mask wearing optional.
At many local businesses, the change has been met with relief, while at others the management’s “polite request” that masks be worn, such as at Gaddis Pharmacy in Cotulla, gives employees and customers a feeling that health and safety protocols continue to matter.
“We have always had the signs up, from the very beginning,” pharmacist Pablo Gonzales said this week. “Of all places where a mask would be important during a pandemic, a pharmacy must be one of the most significant.”
Gonzales pointed to his staff and noted that all continue wearing masks on the job, adding that he believes it gives them an extra protective barrier from a communicable virus.
“We ask our customers to wear masks when they come in,” Gonzales said. “We can’t order them to, and we can’t refuse service based on their decision not to wear a mask, but we do ask that people maintain social distancing and that they observe basic health and safety practices.
“Sometimes, customers refuse to wear a mask,” the pharmacist said. “We really can’t do much about that. We can’t really argue with them.”
At the La Salle County Sheriff’s Office, bailiffs and security personnel at the courthouse entrance have worn masks without fail since the beginning of the pandemic and continue to do so this week. Deputies Eddie DeLeon and Rickey Galvan, both seasoned officers with long careers in law enforcement, believe that the masks have protected them from the virus and that they continue to afford a measure of protection after more than forty percent of the population has been vaccinated.
“I’m going to keep doing it, simply because it’s a basic safety issue,” Galvan said on Tuesday. “The governor lifted the order, so from here on it’s a matter of choice.”
“With the number of people we meet in this job, it just makes sense for now,” DeLeon said.
Sheriff Anthony Zertuche said he may no longer require his officers to wear masks on duty, but asks them to nonetheless.
“We meet people of all walks of life, from all places, and we need to be protected so that we can continue doing our job,” the sheriff said in his office. “I ask my officers to carry on wearing masks, and it’s a request but not an order, and for the most part they do. Right now, it makes sense to take precautions.”
When mask mandates were put in place last spring, businesses across the state were supplied with signs that would be placed in each public entrance, requiring masks and barring entrance to anyone not wearing a mask.
This week, many of those signs have been removed, while others have new notices posted alongside, notifying the public that mask wearing is optional.
At the Dollar General store on Main Street in downtown Cotulla, manager Marisol Cordova wears a mask in front of her customers, as do her cashiers. Protective barriers – sheets of clear plastic – remain in place at cash registers, and half of the customers in the store on Tuesday morning were maskless.
Cordova believes that her store and other vital retailers upon whom the public depended for household essentials throughout the pandemic seemed at many times to be on the very front line of the community’s battle with the coronavirus.
“We had some customers during the height of the pandemic who were really scared of what could happen,” Cordova said. “Everyone wore masks all the time, and we even had some customers report to us or make complaints if they saw someone without a mask.
“The people of Cotulla came to us for their essentials, and we did our best to keep everyone safe,” the store manager said. “We sanitized