Cherie Bonneval stood in front of the automatic doors at the Kroger on Seawall Boulevard and hesitated.
Bonneval and her children weren’t wearing face masks, and warning signs posted on the main entrance of one of Galveston’s busiest supermarkets gave her pause.
The sign stated the city of Galveston had implemented a mask requirement for people entering businesses. After a moment, Bonneval turned around. She had a mask in her car, she said. As a matter of practice, she hadn’t been wearing one around town, but the newly imposed city rule had her rethinking masks, she said.
“I’m just so confused about all of this,” said Bonneval, who has been staying in Galveston for the last month. Learning about the order was a reality check for her, she said. “I’m getting chills now talking about it. What if I am putting my kids in danger? It’s starting to change for me a little bit.”
Hundreds of Galveston shoppers who had been forgoing masks during the pandemic found themselves in a new, covered-up world Tuesday. The city’s masking requirements went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday. The requirements stipulate that businesses must require their employees and their customers over the age of 10 to wear face masks in places where close contact between people is possible.
Although some business owners and consumers welcomed the order, some were bracing for pushback from irate customers who believe mandatory masks are unnecessary and an intrusion on their freedom.
The requirements are meant to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and come at a time when the number of cases of coronavirus in the city of Galveston is increasing. The number of identified cases of coronavirus in the city has more than quadrupled since Memorial Day from 59 to 254.
The increase — along with the tacit approval of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — prompted Galveston to become the first city in Galveston County to create a mandatory mask order and threaten to fine businesses that don’t comply with it.
La Marque Mayor Bobby Hocking over the weekend issued a proclamation urging residents and visitors to the mainland city to wear masks in public places. Unlike Galveston’s order, La Marque’s proclamation doesn’t carry penalties for businesses or individuals who eschew masks.
SHOPPING IN MASKS
At the entrances of some of Galveston’s stores and supermarkets, residents and visitors alike appeared to be following the new mask requirements, even it they weren’t particularly happy about it.
Jack Vaughan used an expletive for cow excrement to describe his feelings about the mask order as he left The Home Depot on Broadway in Galveston, although he still carried a blue hospital mask in his hand.
“I just think that people should be adult enough to decide what they want to do and not be told by the government all the time,” Vaughan said. “If you’re healthy, and you take care of yourself and you’re smart about it, it comes down to common sense.”
Ron Smith, another customer at The Home Depot, said it appeared that most people in the store were following the order, although it didn’t appear anyone in the store was telling customers to wear a face covering as they entered, he said.
Smith didn’t think it was fair that businesses could bear the brunt of punishment if people violate the order.
“If there’s going to be a rule, everybody should follow it,” Smith said. “To me, it ought to be a spot check. The police should go around and if you’re not wearing a mask, they should give you a ticket.”
The city won’t begin to issue fines for violating the sign order until Friday at soonest, officials said. The order expires a week from being in effect unless the city council on Thursday decides to extend it.
On the other side of the same parking lot, Jamie Terry, a League City resident who was shopping in Galveston’s Target store, appreciated that more people would be required to wear masks because it would mean less risk of infecting her son, who is immunocompromised, she said.
“I think it’s a very good idea to stop the spread of the virus,” Terry said. “We don’t really know what’s making it get worse, so whatever we can do to stop the spread is good.”
For businesses that have to enforce the new rule, challenges could await.
Although it’s a difficult position for businesses owners to police and deal with angry customers, the city had no other choice, said Holly Hopkins, owner of Mod Coffeehouse, 2126 Postoffice St.
Abbott on June 3 told local governments they couldn’t issue orders requiring people to wear masks or fining them for violating those rules. But Abbott gave a thumbs-up to Bexar County, home of San Antonio, which last week issued an order mandating businesses require face coverings for customers and employees.
Cities and counties can make rules ordering businesses to require face coverings and fine businesses for violating those rules, Abbott said.
Businesses shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of policing people on mask orders or be on the hook financially, Hopkins said. Businesses that violate the order face up to a $1,000 fine.
But she supports the city’s order because Abbott left local leaders with no other option after forbidding governmental entities from fining people instead of businesses, Hopkins said.
“He’s left our local municipalities with literally no other option,” Hopkins said.
More than the financial ramifications, Hopkins is worried about her employees having to leave the shop’s protective glass walls to ask people to put on masks, she said.
“We’ve already had horrible things said to us,” Hopkins said.
Other cities such as Austin, Dallas and Houston have followed San Antonio in implementing the mask order.
Businesses operators are worried about confrontations with customers at the door, said Gary Huddleston, grocery and industry consultant with the Texas Retailers Association.
“If a customer refuses to wear a face covering, then it’s up to the retailer to make the decision what to do with that specific customer,” Huddleston said.
Businesses could offer curbside service, for example, he said.
For business owners, the best approach is that cities require businesses to have a masking policy and cite them for not having such a policy, rather than citing the business if customers don’t wear masks, Huddleston said.
Galveston’s rule imposes fines to businesses that don’t have such a policy.