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Port Arthur, Mid-County businesses wrestle with mask dilemma

The lifting of the mask mandate by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is giving a slight pause to some local business owners as they look at how to operate in the future.

Kittie Kay, owner of The Kids’ Kloset, will modify the sign on the front door to request, not require, customers wear a mask at all times due to her health problems.

Kay has had the resale consignment shop for 16 years and said she would continue to wear a mask.

“Partly because I am immune-challenged,” Kay said of why she will wear a mask for her safety.

Kay has received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and has to wait until Friday to get the second dose. She knows she will not have immediate immunity once the vaccines are complete, she said.

The sign outside The Kids’ Kloset on Boston Avenue in Nederland. (Mary Meaux/The News)

On Tuesday, Abbot announced the opening of the state and lifting of the mask mandate effective March 10.

Evy Knight, owner of Twisted Gypsy, a boutique in Nederland, is definitely wearing a mask.

“My husband is in the ICU,” she said.

Knight’s husband Donald went for a routine check-up and procedure that uses dye in his body last Wednesday. Something went “terribly wrong” and he went into kidney failure and is in a Houston hospital, she said.

The business owner feels it is too soon to lift the mask mandate, especially at a time when hospitals aren’t allowing visitors.

If the medical field is this concerned that visitors aren’t allowed in hospitals, how can it be ok to rescind the mask ordinance, she asked.

“I won’t force my beliefs on anybody,” she said. “I’ll have a sign out explaining why I want to continue wearing one and explain about my husband.”

The YMCA of Southeast Texas is modifying its rules somewhat in response to the issue.

The Y has been following the governor’s guidelines of requiring members to wear gloves while working out and socially distance if possible.

In areas where you can physically distance while working out, masks aren’t required.

With some sports, such as basketball, it is difficult to socially distance so players are asked to wear a mask on their face, not necessarily on their nose.

Going forth, Y staff will still be required to wear masks at all times for personal safety and the safety of members, program participants and guests, YMCA CEO Kevin Pearson said.

Members are encouraged to wear masks in all public spaces at all times and masks are required during special hours in the facility.

“We are designating these times for the protection of our more vulnerable members and to provide facilities, programs and services for our members that want the security of knowing that everyone will be wearing a face covering,” he said.

Those time are:

  • Monday and Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
  • Tuesday and Thursday, 1 to 3 p.m.

Pearson said those who feel more comfortable with others masked up can use this time, and those who do not want to wear a mask can visit at different times.

Gloves won’t be required when using the equipment, though it is a considerate practice to wipe down the equipment after it has been used.

Staff will be there to double check and to disinfect.

Temperature checks will be required for entry into the facility, just as it has been. During the months this has been a practice, Pearson can only think of two instances where a person had a fever and was turned away.

“Most members are OK with it,” he said of the rules. “We have had some members say, OK, the mandate is lifted we’re coming in now. That said, they weren’t going to come in until the mandate was lifted. We look forward to having more traffic again and at the same time be mindful of those who want the extra comfort.”

Museums are a different topic in the rescinding of the mask mandate, as they were some of the first entities allowed to reopen earlier in the pandemic.

The reason mainly was due to the size of museums. The Museum of the Gulf Coast, at 39,000 square feet with 26-foot high ceilings, is no different.

The sheer size of the facility allowed for social distancing, director Tom Neal said.

For now the museum will listen to the CDC and other health officials.

“We will strongly encourage people to wear masks and adjust over time as more people get their vaccines,” Neal said.

But through the months of requiring masks, Neal has not seen an instance where patrons visited unmasked.

“I think some people are tending to want to wear them a little longer,” he said. “We worry about their health and the health of people who work here and visitors as we proceed.”

Neal is looking forward to when the museum can host large gatherings once again and is ready to move forward.

“I just don’t want to go backward,” he said. “I look forward to the day when we look at this in the rearview mirror.”