NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM/CNN) – Texans are no longer under a statewide mandate to wear face coverings in public, but residents shouldn’t be too quick to throw out their masks.
Governor Greg Abbott last week announced he would be loosening restrictions meant to stop the spread of COVID-19, including doing away with the mask requirement and allowing all businesses to reopen 100% since active coronavirus cases and hospitalizations were down to levels not seen in months.READ MORE: 'I'm Afraid We're Going To See A Surge Of Violence' Says Texas Criminologist Following Recent Mass Shootings
“Too many Texans have been sidelined from employment opportunities. Too many small business owners have struggled to pay their bills. This must end. It is now time to open Texas 100%,” he said.
Critics of the decision say it is too soon, since only a small percentage of the state’s population had been vaccinated — less than 7% at the time — and aggressively spreading variants of the virus may lead to another explosion of cases.
And several of the states’ largest cities — including Dallas and Fort Worth — will still require masks on city properties and facilities. A vast number of businesses have also said they will still require face coverings even though Abbott’s mandate is now lifted.
And retailers, grocery chains, pharmacies and automakers, including Target, Kroger, CVS, Walgreens, Best Buy, Macy’s, JCPenney, Toyota, GM and others, say masks will still be required at their stores and facilities by both employees and customers.
Of course, masks will still be required on federal property in Texas, since President Joe Biden made that mandatory in January, as well as on public transportation.
Planned Celebrations And Mask Burnings
Even as the mask mandate falls away, Abbott is encouraging residents to “continue to practice the safe practices that will ensure we will be able to get everybody back to work with Texas continuing to lead the United States of America in economic growth and job creation.”READ MORE: Texas Grand Jury To Consider Charges In Shooting Death Of Protester Garrett Foster Last Summer
That message may have been lost on some.
Members of a conservative group plan to gather Wednesday night to celebrate the first day of the reopening with a bonfire and the option for attendees to throw their masks into the flames, according to event organizer Benji Gershon, president of the Dallas Jewish Conservatives.
The event, set to take place outside at a private Collin County, will feature live music, drinks, and conservative speakers including Shelley Luther, the Dallas salon owner who became a conservative icon after serving jail time last spring for refusing to shut down her business during the lockdown.
The event isn’t an “anti-mask event,” according to Gershon, who said he has lost family members and friends to COVID-19. It’s about “celebrating the fact that we can make choices for ourselves. We don’t have to rely on government to make our own choices,” he said.
“It’s all about taking the shackles of governments off of your back and saying, listen, I can make my own decisions for myself,” he said. “We don’t have to have the government telling us how to live our lives.”
The mask-burning segment of the event in Parker is a “purely symbolic” gesture to celebrate personal freedom, he said. Organizers plan to hold a moment of silence to memorialize those who’ve died, he said.
As of Monday night, about 300 guests were registered to attend, according to Gershon.
Dallas Jewish Conservatives is partnering up with other conservative groups in the area to put on the event, he said.MORE NEWS: As Pandemic Restrictions Ease, Child Abuse Reports Rise In North Texas
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The CNN Wire™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company contributed to this report.)