It’s a ‘split field’ in Texas over lifted mask mandate: Fort Worth Mayor

Betsy Price, Fort Worth Mayor, joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers to discuss Texas lifting its mask mandates and reopening businesses.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: I want to turn now, however, to the coronavirus pandemic, and more specifically the decision that was made earlier this week by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who lifted the statewide mask mandate and is allowing businesses to operate with no restrictions. Our next guest has called the move premature. So let's bring on Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price to talk about this decision. Now Mayor, you're the county, Tarrant County, had ended the mask mandate to comply with the governor's order. I'm wondering if you've considered perhaps even defying it or in some way taking on the state. Is that at all a possibility that you can do for the residents of Fort Worth?

MAYOR BETSY PRICE: No, I don't think so. I don't think that we want to do that. The governor did leave this. He took away local control on this. But he left personal responsibility up to individuals and he left it up to businesses. If businesses want to encourage them or even mandate them in their business, they can do that.

KRISTIN MYERS: Now, I'm wondering what residents of Fort Worth are saying, what business leaders inside Fort Worth are saying. Because we have spoken to some business leaders who have said, I don't want to be the one responsible for enforcing some of these mask mandates. We've all throughout this pandemic seen so many videos, just on social media alone, folks going into restaurants or other businesses and being quite angry that they are being asked by the business owner to put a mask on when they say, I don't have to wear a mask. My governor said that it is not required. So what are you hearing from some folks inside of Fort Worth about this?

MAYOR BETSY PRICE: You know, it's a pretty split field. There's an awful lot of people saying just what you said, that we don't want to have to enforce that. We don't want to ask our hostess in a restaurant or our waitresses to enforce it. But there's an equal number of restaurants and businesses who said, we're just going to say, we're going to offer them a mask. And if they don't want it, we're going to have them in anyway, but we're going to make all our employees wear their mask. You know, Texas is a big personal responsibility state. And while I think this is premature, I'd love to have seen this not lifted until after spring, say first of May or middle of April.

It is what it is. And we're going to work on what we can work on, and that's encouraging people to wear their mask and working with the businesses to help them get masks. They can pass out and encouraging people. Because it does put their employees in a hard spot to have to do this. But they did it when this pandemic first started and we'll have to do it again. We're also going to work on getting more vaccines in people's arms, expanding the number of people who can get the vaccine. And that'll help with people feeling better about this.

KRISTIN MYERS: I'm glad you mentioned that, Mayor. What kind of boost are you guys anticipating in terms of the vaccine supply, but also the distribution, to at least help mitigate some of the damage that might be caused by rolling back some of these restrictions?

MAYOR BETSY PRICE: Well, you know, we're being told that the supply will be increased with the Johnson & Johnson approval, that it'll dramatically increase here. The feds just opened their two major hubs for vaccination. The city and the county both opened some additional hubs. And then we've got some small neighborhood deliveries at fire stations and community centers for people who don't want to get out or don't have transportation. We'll get it to them. Some special projects. So I'm optimistic we're going to have more vaccines fairly quickly. And that will make people feel a lot better about this.

KRISTIN MYERS: Now, I did note on the Tarrant County Health Department website that while this epidemic curve has come down and quite precipitously, that last week there was a slight uptick, at least from the week prior. I'm wondering if you think that this move could cause another wave of the virus, of the pandemic, in the city or and perhaps even in the state.

MAYOR BETSY PRICE: Well, we certainly hope not. The idea is to get this trend going down in the right direction. I think there's always a bit of a fear that any change in what we've been doing could cause it to go up a little bit. I'm hopeful that the governor's been looking at the data and seeing data that we haven't seen. Most of our experts around here agree that it's a little premature. But they think if people follow the CDC guidelines of social distancing, washing their hands, and wearing their masks, that we should be able to continue to hold this virus, at least at a steady level. And then as more of us are vaccinated or more people have it and we get closer to herd immunity, then it'll begin to go down again.

KRISTIN MYERS: Now, if the public health officials in the county and in the city are telling you that this decision is premature, why do you think the governor decided to take this move?

MAYOR BETSY PRICE: You know, I don't want to second guess the governor. I don't know. We have tried to act locally on data, drive this with the science. And I hope that he's using the same thing, that he had advisors who were telling him that it'd be safe to do. The governor did encourage people to continue to wear their mask even though he allowed them to come off. And a lot of the businesses are pleased that at least they can expand their occupancy in the buildings right now too.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price. Thanks so much for joining us today to talk about some of your concerns in the city after this move.