On Tuesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that he would end the state’s mask mandate and allow businesses to operate at 100 percent capacity. Mandatory safety measures and restrictions are set to be lifted on March 10, raising questions for art institutions in the state adhering to protocols that require visitors and staff to wear face masks and practice social distancing within their galleries. Many museums in Texas, which reopened last summer, have also limited the number of visitors each day.
Reached by ARTnews, five major museums in Texas have said that the governor’s move to reopen the state will not change the safety measures that they’ve had in place for much of the last year. The Dallas Museum of Art, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the Menil Collection in Houston said that their protocols remain in place.
In a statement shared with ARTnews, the San Antonio Museum of Art listed the practices that will be unchanged by the governor’s announcement, which include requiring all staff and visitors aged 10 and up to wear face masks or coverings in the museum, enforcing social distancing, providing online ticketing and limited onsite payment, conducting health screenings of employees, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces frequently, and keeping sneeze guards at registers.
“The museum’s 87,351 square feet of gallery space and social distancing allow our visitors to enjoy art while maintaining health and safety for the community,” the institution’s statement reads. The Menil, the DMA, the MFAH, and the Modern Fort Worth all have similar measures in place.
In a tweet on Wednesday, Governor Abbott said that, given his state’s daily vaccination rates, “We are able to contain COVID and safely allow Texas to open 100%.” As of March 3, 2021, Texas has had a total of 2.6 million coronavirus cases and 44,368 deaths, according to the New York Times‘s coronavirus tracking project. Also according to the Times, about 13 percent of the state’s population has received at least one dose of a vaccine.
Abbott’s move to reopen Texas is at odds with admonitions from federal health officials. C.D.C. director Rochelle Walensky characterized the state of the pandemic in the U.S. as “tenuous” at a White House briefing last week and said, per a report by the New York Times, “Now is not the time to relax restrictions.”