Service workers worry for safety following Gov. Abbott’s removal of statewide mask mandate

Ikram Mohamed

As Mac Davenport makes a latte at Mozart’s Coffee Roasters, they remind customers to keep their masks on. 

After Gov. Greg Abbott announced his executive order to end the statewide mask mandate, Davenport said they may have to quit their job for their own safety if Mozart’s doesn’t continue to enforce its own mask policy.   

“I don’t know how many people will wear their masks when they don’t have to,” advertising sophomore Davenport said. “(Now), we correct them or give them (a mask). I worry about when they’re not required to (wear a mask), and we can’t make them.”

Last Tuesday, Abbott signed an executive order stating all businesses in Texas may open at 100% capacity, and the statewide mask mandate will be lifted starting Wednesday. Some students working service jobs feel these changes are a direct threat to their own health and safety, as well as the health and safety of people around them. 

“It is ridiculous to end restrictions now,” Davenport said. “Over 90% of people in Texas aren’t vaccinated. Texas hasn’t opened up vaccine eligibility to a lot of essential and (food) service workers yet, so I can’t protect myself in that way.” 

Because Davenport suffers from a chronic illness, they said they will take all the precautions necessary to protect themself, though it won’t mean much if customers don't wear their masks. 

Advertising sophomore Athena Hoang, who works as a pharmacy technician at CVS, said she is constantly nervous about contracting the virus and exposing her parents, who are high-risk. 

“My mom is a cancer survivor, and she's immunocompromised,” Hoang said. “My dad has a pacemaker, (and) he has a lot of heart and lung problems. So if they were to get COVID-19, I don't know if they’d make it.” 

Hoang said the pharmacy she works at takes safety precautions seriously, including vigorously sanitizing surfaces, utilizing the drive-thru and doing hourly cleanings. Hoang said the new executive order will add another responsibility for her, which she feels she shouldn’t have to worry about.

“I’m (going to) be the one to run errands for my family,” Hoang said. “(I’m going to be) wearing gloves, double-masking, (wearing) face shields. It’s another thing that’s (going to be) constantly on my mind.”

Jannel Hayden, who works as a hostess, said she worries there is now a higher chance of her contracting COVID-19 a second time. Hayden, a human development and family sciences and African and African diaspora studies sophomore, has requested her place of work not be named for employment reasons. 

“As soon as the (announcement) came out, I started double-masking … I'm more cautious about how close I am to people, how often I'm sanitizing everything,” Hayden said. “The customers don’t really care anymore. It’s kind of a free-for-all, even though the mask mandate is still in place.”

Hayden said the restaurant she works at is already busy, but she thinks next week, it will be extremely crowded. Because the restaurant has told staff they won’t continue to enforce the mask policy for customers, she said she is concerned her co-workers will catch COVID-19. 

“It feels like a slap in the face,” Hayden said. “You're putting your workers at risk when you don't need to. I personally don't agree (with the policies). But I need to make money, so here I am.” 

Hayden said she believes ending the mask mandate is harmful, especially to Black and brown communities in Texas, which the pandemic has disproportionately affected.  

“We are the ones that usually are working service jobs,” Hayden said. “(Abbott) is recklessly endangering citizens, and we should vote him out.”