Even though he hinted at it for days, Texas businesses say Governor Greg Abbott's lift of COVID-19 restrictions still caught them by surprise.
”I am ending the statewide mask mandate,” he announced March 2.
It was good news to Maria Gonzales, who doesn't really like having to wear a face mask but understands the need for it.
"It's hard to wear this mask all day," she explained.
Manufacturing businesses, like the one where Gonzales works, largely stayed with tough federal restrictions.
"Ultimately, you've got the CDC and OSHA, from a federal standpoint, that's given recommendations, and then you have, from a state level, given a different recommendation that, for sure, puts an employer in a unique situation, let's call it,” explained Clint Weaver, VP Human Resources for Hobbs Bonded Fibers.
Just as in poker, the strongest hand wins.
”All employers want to, first and foremost, make sure that they provide a safe, safe workplace. They also want to make sure that they're following the legal and government regulations to prevent safety audit that could carry potential penalties,” explained Joshua Finstad of employment firm, Placements Unlimited.
While the governor's order gave wiggle room for business, he left none for local governments.
The governor's order only gave one exception to local governments for instituting their own mask policies. They can only do it if they have a high hospitalization rate.
Businesses say their freedom to choose comes with a few strings attached.
”When you start being inconsistent with policy liability, it's huge. Period,” explained Weaver.
He says that policy should apply to all employees.
Crisis communication experts say companies should also be upfront about their policies.
”You cannot over-communicate what you're doing in your business to customers,” explained Liz Anderson of E.H. Anderson Public Relations. She developed a program called "Pandemic PR" to help businesses cope with the pandemic.
Weaver says the governor's move puts businesses on a tightrope.
”Employers that, you know, are kind of walking that fine line and maybe get a little too heavy on the business side and forget about their employees, their liability and their risk is exposed,” he said.
Businesses like The Findery relaxed their rules, but didn't do away with them.
”We just want everybody to feel comfortable. We've had a great response,” said Matt Koen of The Findery.
If companies saw Gov. Abbott's announcement as a sign the COVID-19 crisis had ended, Anderson says think again.
"We're getting a little fatigued, and business owners may be tired of it, you know, but this is not the time to stop. This is not the time to stop," she said.
Experts say COVID-19 remains a threat, which even non-experts recognize.
"Better to still be using the masks. Everybody using it because the COVID is everywhere,” said Gonzales.
Businesses say they dare not let their guard down until they're certain they have COVID-19 in their rear view mirror.