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How businesses in Houston are navigating CDC's new mask guidance

ABC 13 Houston logo ABC 13 Houston 5/14/2021 KTRK
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Houston's top vaccine expert and a restaurant manager are weighing in on the CDC's new guidance for fully vaccinated Americans.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday it is easing the mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors, in crowds and in most indoor settings.

This marks the first time the CDC released a set of guidelines.

SEE ALSO: CDC: Fully vaccinated people can ditch masks indoors - most of the time

Chris Cusack, the general manager at the La Grange restaurant, said he believes this is a step in the right direction.

"I think it's something we've all been waiting for for such a long time," Cusack said. "Through all the restrictions, close downs, to-go only and all the things we've tried to roll with. People will adapt to the news and lifting the restrictions, and I think it will probably take some time, but I'm excited. It's going this direction and not the other way."

There are a variety of factors that restaurant and business owners have to take into consideration before deciding what to do next, including how many of their staff members are fully vaccinated and their comfort level around others. Cusack said he is having those conversations with the staff at the restaurant and others in the industry.

The Texas Restaurant Association released this statement to ABC13 Thursday evening:

"Governor Abbott made clear with Executive Order GA-34 in March 2021 that restaurants and other businesses have the right to set their own safety requirements for employees and customers. We trust that Texas restaurants will take into account this latest guidance from the CDC as they continue to update their policies. Above all, restaurants will continue to prioritize the safety and comfort of their employees and guests."

SEE RELATED: Walmart drops mask mandate for fully vaccinated shoppers | List of stores' masking policies

The Houston Zoo also announced Friday that it is no longer requiring visitors who are fully vaccinated to wear a mask in general areas.

Visitors will however be required to wear a mask if they are participating in a paid animal encounter like behind-the-scenes tours or giraffe feedings.

"The zoo continues to strongly encourage all unvaccinated guests to wear masks, and wants everyone to exercise safe social distancing in crowded situations, regardless of their vaccination status," the zoo said in a statement.

However, not all businesses are ready to lift their mask requirements.

Susan Finn of Beautique Day Spa and Salon said they are keeping their masking requirement for now.

"Because so many people still have not been vaccinated, we're just keeping the masks, as of this time, until things play out a little bit," said Finn.

She said while some customers weren't happy about their masking requirement, a majority of them prefer it, saying it makes them feel safe.


Video: Most Houston restaurants still requiring masks, survey finds (ABC 13 Houston)

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As of Friday, about 40% of adults 16 and older in Harris County were fully vaccinated.

Dr. Peter Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said he was anticipating the CDC's announcement to happen later in the summer, when more Americans are fully vaccinated across the country.

"While virus transmission is not very high right now, the worry is that, if we continue to keep low vaccination coverage, the numbers are going to start going up again in the summer," Hotez said. "I think if we're going to do this, I mean, the only way for us to be successful is to more aggressively get people vaccinated."

It is still recommended for children and people who are not vaccinated to wear masks and continue social distancing.

"If we really want to get back to pre-pandemic life, we have to vaccinate all the adults and adolescents. It's that simple," Hotez said. "The CDC recommendation is a sign that the best way, the only way we're going to get out of this epidemic is to vaccinate our way through it, and it's really important to protect yourself and the lives of your loved ones, to make sure that everybody is vaccinated who's eligible."

Hotez also said not enough Texans are fully vaccinated. He is also concerned about a fifth wave of COVID-19 cases hitting this summer, largely due to the presence of variants.

"If you remember this time last year, we were at a low point in the epidemic, and we opened up prematurely, and it was an awful summer with a big rise in cases. I think that's likely again," Hotez said. "Not as bad, because we have a segment of the population that's vaccinated and another segment that's been infected previously and maybe some partial immunity, but it can still go up. That's the reason why, if you're not vaccinated, whether you're a child or adult, and you go indoors, you're still going to need that mask to protect you."

Some stores have said that they plan to continue requiring the use of masks.

Kroger

The nation's second-largest grocery chain will still require masks worn by all in stores. It said in a statement:

At this time, The Kroger Family of Companies continues to require everyone in our stores to wear masks. We are encouraging and incentivizing associate vaccinations by offering a $100 one-time payment to associates who receive the recommended doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. As we have throughout the pandemic, we are reviewing current safety practices, the CDC's latest guidance, and soliciting feedback from associates to guide the next phase of our policy. Additionally, we continue to encourage everyone to practice social distancing and frequent hand washing as well as consider the use of no-touch grocery delivery or low-contact grocery pickup.

H-E-B

ABC13 has reached out and is waiting to hear back about the mask policy.

Target

The company said:

Target will continue to require all of our coronavirus safety measures in all stores, including masks and social distancing, while we review today's guidance from the CDC and re-evaluate the guidance we offer our team and guests.

Home Depot

Home Depot told ABC News, "We haven't updated our mask policy, but we'll follow up if anything changes."

A check of the Home Depot website shows that the store provides and requires masks to be worn in store.

CVS Health

CVS said in a statement to ABC News: "We're reevaluating our in-store mask policy based on the latest CDC guidance. The safety of our employees and customers will continue to guide our decision-making process."

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