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AUSTIN, TX — Amid increasing levels of the coronavirus in Texas — including some emerging from HEB grocery stores — a San Antonio resident has launched a petition asking for the grocer to require all customers to wear protective face coverings.
The Change.org petition by David Spener was prompted after the company announced two weeks ago that while customers would be encouraged to wear masks, they would not be mandatory. Since then, multiple media outlets have reported workers at 33 San Antonio-area stores have tested positive for the virus that causes respiratory illness.
At last check, the petition had collected 33,846 signatures of a 35,000 goal.
In its earlier announcement, HEB explained it had made the wearing of masks optional in following the lead of Gov. Greg Abbott who waived the mandate. Abbott has cited the ideal of "personal responsibility" in making mask wearing voluntary rather than mandated — even as Texas has hit new records in terms of new cases and hospitalizations for several days running.
But as a private company, the petition's organizer explained, HEB is able to dictate its own rules. Such autonomous decision-making was seen when the grocer joined countless other retailers in blocking customers from entering its stores with their firearms, despite the "open carry" law pushed by Abbott that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.
Spener noted that another big grocer, COSTCO, already requires its customers to wear masks before entering the premises.
Coronavirus cases also have emerged at Austin-area HEB stores recently, according to reports. An employee at the HEB on North Lamar Boulevard and Rundberg Lane in North Austin tested positive for the virus, according to a June 15 news release issued by the grocer. The worker was last in the store on June 11, the company noted.
On April 5, the company announced workers at three Austin-area stores tested positive for coronavirus. The stores from where cases emerged were on 2701 E. 7th St., 2508 E. Riverside Dr. and 16900 N. Ranch Road 620 in Round Rock. The company added workers at those stores were last in the stores on March 26, March 28 and March 29, respectively.
Asking customers to wear masks, however, might be easier said than done — particularly as their use has become politicized depending on ideology. Using handles to retain their anonymity, some workers at the grocery chain took to Reddit to describe some customers' ire at being told they must wear masks before entering stores.
Reddit user BoBTheBak3r posted on the social media platform's San Antonio thread: "They would call us Nazis, Hitler among countless other things when told that [masks] are required.” Added dodofishman: “Enforcing masks can get heated,” he said. “I would feel it would be 100 percent out of my pay grade to do that if I worked as an HEB cashier."
The effort to compel mask wearing at HEB stores comes at a time of ever-higher rates of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations across Texas. The Texas Department of State Health Services agency reported 2,622 more people tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday — a new record shattering the previous high of 2,054 set on June 10.
Health officials also reported 2,518 patients positively testing for coronavirus are currently in hospitals — up from 2,326 on Monday and the highest daily number for the fifth day in a row. The number bypassed the previous record high of 2,287 reached on Sunday.