On Tuesday, March 2, 2021, Governor Abbott lifted all COVID restrictions in the state. He said, “It is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed… It is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others.”
Among those lifted restrictions is the capacity limit and mask mandate, which are huge issues that directly affect the Texas wine industry. Per the governor’s orders, the wineries must decide what safety protocols they will use at their own establishments. It is a big decision not to be taken lightly.
No matter what route a winery chooses, they will upset some of their wine club members and guests. Texas is fiercely independent-minded which would make it seem that lifting these protocols seems a good fit, however, safety protocols, especially wearing masks, are key to the success and growth of the Texas wine industry.
Requiring masks is a positive in the mind of many consumers, myself included. Other Texas wine lovers have said the same. Fellow writer Robin Clark said that requiring masks “signifies to me as a customer…that you CARE about me.” The opposite suggests that the winery does not care if the customer returns or not. And when it comes to small businesses, many people believe, “why should I care about sharing my dollars and support for you and your business,” if you do not care about me (Robin Clark).
One of the most important reasons people return to Texas wineries and join clubs is the relationship formed between winery and guest. For those who want masks mandated, it is an issue of safety, as well as respect. Not requiring the masks destroys that relationship, possibly forever.
For many of us, we do not have the luxury of the most useful safety protocol available, the vaccine. Even the governor admits that only 5.7 million shots have been administered in Texas. Since the previous vaccines require two doses, at best, less than 3 million Texans are protected. Texas overall population is 29 million which means less than 9% of the population has been vaccinated. Houston’s immediate population is 2.31 million (with a combined surrounding population of 6.99 million), San Antonio has 1.71 million (with a total surrounding area population of 2.55 million), and Dallas has 1.33 million (with surrounding area of 7.57 million). I am lucky to be a part of 1c, the next group scheduled for the vaccine, but when that group will be allowed is anyone’s guess. My husband, though he qualifies for 1c, will not likely be able to get it at that time due to the poor quality of tests to verify the inherited medical conditions that place him in that group; this is a situation faced by millions of Texans.
To make those who are unprotected feel safe, every financially viable safety protocol must be in place. Masks fit that requirement. And despite the conflicting information available, masks are extremely helpful, especially combined with other protocols like social distancing and hand washing.
Most are fine with social distancing, but it is one of the most problematic of practices. A December 2020 article in the journal Medical Devices and Sensors looked at the role masks play in reducing transmission. COVID-19 spreads through droplets expelled when coughing, sneezing, talking, and breathing. Most droplets only travel six feet. However, smaller droplets can spread further, easily doubling the distance. In addition, the droplet’s nuclei can travel up to 26 feet and stay in the air for over an hour (Wang et al, 2020, p. 2-3). This has been supported by many studies, including a September 2020 article in the journal Risk Analysis (Slater, 2020, p. 3-4). Though social distancing will eliminate the largest quantity of threats, it alone cannot effectively protect people.
We need more help in protecting all of us from infection. Masks are often seen as controversial. The stories of those infected despite wearing a mask are all too common. And the research suggests that the mask they wore may not have been enough to protect them. The commonly used cloth masks cannot effectively filter out small aerosol particles, especially compared to surgical masks or N95 masks (which filter out 95% of all particles). However, the quality of the mask determines it effectiveness. At their best, multi-layered cotton masks have been found to be as efficient as an N95 mask (Wang et al, 2020, p. 7).
Despite the protection from infection being low, masks actually do make a difference because they effectively stop the transmission of aerosol particles. In other words, if someone with COVID-19 wears a mask, they significantly reduce the quantity of the particles, as well as reduce their ability to travel, even the very small droplet nuclei (Wang, et al, 2020, p. 5). Studies regularly show that cloth masks block the transmission of the virus, reaching effectiveness rates of 95% (Ma et al., 2020, p. 1569). Based on statistical analysis, when both parties wear a mask, the overall effectiveness increases exponentially (Salter, 2020, p. 5).
Many of us ask the wineries to please consider our view. We care about you and are very happy to support you. However, we ask that you care about us too. At least when it comes to close contact and indoor environments, it would be best to continue requiring masks of staff and guests until other protocols make them obsolete.
Abbott, Greg. (2021, March 2). Governor Abbott Lifts Mask Mandate, Open Texas 100 percent. Office of the Texas Governor. Retrieved from https://gov.texas.gov/news/post/governor-abbott-lifts-mask-mandate-opens-texas-100-percent on March 3, 2021.
Ma, Q., Shan, H., Zhang, H., Li, G., Yang, R., & Chen, J. (2020). Potential utilities of mask‐wearing and instant hand hygiene for fighting SARS‐CoV‐2. Journal of Medical Virology, 92(9), 1567–1571. https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25805.
Salter, S. (2020). Reinventing Cloth Masks in the Face of Pandemics. Risk Analysis. https://doi.org/10.1111/risa.13602.
Wang, Y., Deng, Z., & Shi, D. (2021). How effective is a mask in preventing COVID-19 infection? Medical Devices & Sensors, e10163–e10163. https://doi.org/10.1002/mds3.10163.