The Shops at La Cantera were bustling Saturday afternoon, with 209 people walking past the bookstore Barnes & Noble in only 15 minutes.
Of those, 70 of them wore a mask or bandana, a measure recommended when in close quarters to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Another 42 wore them, but in more relaxed ways, tucked under their chins or hanging from one ear, with mouths and noses exposed.
Over the weekend, San Antonio felt like a city caught somewhere between a pandemic lockdown and normal life. For most people, fighting the coronavirus now means navigating a loosely enforced set of rules and guidelines from governmental and medical authorities. While Texas’ reopening orders strictly limit occupancy to 25 percent for most reopened businesses for now, other measures like face coverings and sanitization mostly have been left up to choice.
In San Antonio, most businesses seem to be abiding by local health orders, which have dictated whether and how they can remain open and changed in tandem with the State’s orders. Since March 18, City code compliance officers and the San Antonio Police Department have logged more than 2,500 violations but have issued only 67 citations, according to City data.
Residents, however, indicated mixed opinions about whether they would keep up with measures to stop the virus’s spread. While the CDC has said people should use cloth face coverings in close settings, many are skeptical that wearing a mask does any good.
“They are giving people a sense they are protected, but they are not stopping the virus germs,” San Antonio resident Nicole Flood said.
Flood said she wears a mask only if it’s required by the business or if it makes others feel safe. She pointed to inconsistencies in information from the CDC over time about the effectiveness of wearing cloth masks to prevent spreading the virus. Flood she said she and her family take other precautions such as “staying further away from people and using hand sanitizer more when … away from home.”
San Antonio resident Stephanie Guerra said she wears a mask when she goes out because she’s concerned about infecting others.
“I compare it to covering my mouth and nose when I cough or sneeze, but instead of spreading regular germs, now we could be asymptomatic and spreading the virus,” Guerra said.
Across the U.S., social distancing is becoming more of a choice and less of a government-enforced policy. Early this month, Texas joined Georgia and Colorado as some of the first states to begin reopening businesses, though since then most have begun unwinding their stay-at-home orders.
Restrictions in Texas will loosen again Monday, with gyms and exercise facilities, office buildings, and manufacturing sites allowed to reopen after an April 27 order by Gov. Greg Abbott. Local officials expect Abbott to announce more future openings Monday, including bars, which have been closed since March 31.
Michael Cano, owner of downtown climbing gym Armadillo Boulders, said the gym will open to members only on June 1, a date that gives them more time to prepare. Masks will be required, he said.
In a phone call Saturday, Cano said they didn’t want to push the limits, stressing the need to put people’s well-being ahead of short-term financial interests. It helped that many of the gym’s members donated dues during its closure.
“It’s not about being profitable at this point,” Cano said. “Right now, we have to serve our community and be wary and vigilant against the spread of COVID-19.”
At Armadillo, reopening means using a reservation and tracking system to keep only about 50 people in the room at once, dropping some equipment rentals, and not allowing shower access, rules tied to Abbott’s reopening orders.
Other challenges are unique to a climbing gym. Route setters who arrange the holds on the walls are reconfiguring the space to better help people stay farther apart, Cano said.
Like Armadillo, other businesses not required by the State to set face covering rules are still choosing to do so. At Blue Star Arts Complex Sunday, businesses like Blue Star Provisions grocery and Halcyon coffee lounge had signs requiring customers to wear masks inside. Most of those seated on patios stayed uncovered, as did small groups gathered within a couple feet of each other standing outside.
San Antonio is among the major metro areas that have not seen a major spike in coronavirus cases that overwhelms the local medical system. The South Texas Regional Advisory Council is currently rating the system under medium stress, with 29 in intensive care and 14 on ventilators, as of Saturday.
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New Braunfels resident Nikki Barnett is among those who feel that wearing a mask subconsciously spreads fear.
“When we go somewhere and we see the majority of individuals covered up in masks it subliminally reinforces the fear that is constantly being presented to us in the media,” Barnett said.
Barnett said she wears a mask only to visit businesses required to implement them, referring to local orders that require masks but impose no penalties for not wearing them.
“I’m not likely to support businesses who require them by choice,” Barnett said.
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Larger reopened businesses such as malls have faced more scrutiny for their policies, and many are requiring masks. At South Park Mall, owner Namdar Realty Group had posted signs about wearing masks, symptom screenings for employees, and stepped-up cleaning schedules.
Dozens of people milled around the quiet mall at noon on Sunday. Many stores had put up barriers at their entrances to limit the number of people, and yellow caution tape blocked the seating area in the food court. Shoppers all appeared to be wearing a face covering, though a few had tucked them under their chins.
What appeared to be the lone exception was a man wearing a sleeveless black T-shirt with the skull emblem of Marvel Comics’ Punisher character. He walked slowly through the mall, making eye contact with other shoppers.