Plano massage therapist Julie Alexander’s mask protest ended almost as fast as it began when, on Thursday, Governor Greg Abbott ordered all Texans to wear masks in public. Alexander had watched Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther shift the national essential/nonessential business debate when she refused to close her salon despite a cease-and-desist citation issued by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins in late April.
“Reopening my salon wasn’t a political statement, it was a necessity for the people that rely on it,” Luther told Texas Tribune in May.
Alexander planned to make a very different statement after Plano City Council held an emergency meeting in early July and passed an ordinance that simply recommended, rather than mandated, that businesses require occupants to wear masks.
Council members against the mandate, like Shelby Williams and Lily Bao, argued that it would place an undue burden on local businesses. Alexander adamantly disputes this assertion.
“As a small business owner, it frustrates me that [they’re] speaking on my behalf,” she says. “It is our job to police our own facility. It is our job to protect our clients and our employees, as business owners.”
This 5-3 decision was met with considerable ire, and in a polar opposite move to Luther’s, Alexander responded by indefinitely ceasing operations at her spa and massage therapy practice, Handcrafted Therapy, in protest.
“I want to be part of the solution,” she says. “I urge all businesses to consider temporarily closing their doors until we have a hold on the coronavirus.”
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Alexander’s protest impeded all her business’s potential revenue in the foreseeable future. She is currently surviving off an Economic Injury Disaster Loan she received from the Small Business Association in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and while resuming operations at Handcrafted Therapy would be a more economically expedient option, she nonetheless stands firm in her belief that closing is the right thing to do.
The onslaught of the pandemic has overwhelming pertinence to Alexander’s clientele, which comprises largely of people who are elderly or otherwise immunocompromised. She cites this as a significant reason for her advocacy of Mayor Harry LaRosiliere’s proposed mask ordinance, and her frustration when the City Council’s failure to pass it.
Much to Alexander’s relief, the resolution passed by the City Council was effectively nullified by Abbott’s executive order just two days following its passage.
“We have the ability to keep businesses open and move our economy forward so that Texans can continue to earn a paycheck, but it requires each of us to do our part to protect one another — and that means wearing a face covering in public spaces,” said Abbott on Thursday.
Still, when it comes to enforcing the mandate, there is no unilateral cooperation among some of the state’s officials. Law enforcement personnel in counties such as Denton have expressed that they will not impose citations against noncompliant citizens. Reasons for such insubordination vary, but agencies such as the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office say that enforcing Abbott’s order would make them more vulnerable to civil liabilities.
Abbott’s executive order imposes a fine of up to $250 to those that do not comply, while first offenses are simply given warnings. In a separate executive order, Abbott ordered bars to close and reduced the cap on restaurants’ capacities, but despite salons still being allowed to operate, Handcrafted Therapy remains closed in efforts of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s very difficult,” Alexander sighs. “I’m really passionate, and I believe this is best for our community. I urge all businesses to consider temporarily closing their doors until we have a hold on the coronavirus. I know it’s hard to choose people over profits, but I think we all have to do what’s best for our community right now and be safe.”