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Austin mayor on Texas lifting COVID-19 restrictions: 'Disappointed'

Austin Mayor Steve Adler joins the Yahoo Finance Live panel to give his thoughts on Texas lifting coronavirus restrictions like mask mandates.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

SEANA SMITH: There we go. Texas Governor Greg Abbott rolling back COVID-19 restrictions, also lifting the mask mandate in the state. We want to talk more about this with Mayor Steve Adler. He's the mayor of Austin, Texas. And Mayor Adler, great to have you back on the show. President Biden has called it Neanderthal-type thinking. Curious just to get your take and what you make of the governor's decision to do this right now.

STEVE ADLER: Well, I think we were all real disappointed, and we're all real-- we're scared of what the impact would be. You know, at the very beginning of this, the governor told us that he would be guided by the science and the data. We feel like he broke that promise. There is no scientific or data-driven basis for removing a mask mandate at this point. You know, nearly unanimous health experts are saying that masking is something we need to do and need to keep doing.

And I think that this action by the governor, even though he says he still supports masking and people should do it, it creates an ambiguity among too many people about whether it really works, whether it's effective, whether it's really been one of the main reasons we've achieved what we've achieved, and sending the message that we're out of danger at this point. And we're clearly not.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Do the mayors in Texas and the political officials, do you have regular discussions, whether you're the same political party or not, with the leadership in Texas? Is that something that's ever occurred, or does it occur?

STEVE ADLER: You know, I think it probably occurs, and it differs from mayor to mayor, their amount of conduct-- contact-- with the governor's office. But the mayors talk to each other all the time in a bipartisan way. I mean, we're all with each other, talking to each other, sharing what's going on, helping one another. Among mayors, as you see nationally, it's pretty bipartisan.

ADAM SHAPIRO: So--

SEANA SMITH: Well, mayor, going off of that, what has the reaction, then, been of the other mayors throughout your state to this decision?

STEVE ADLER: Bipartisan. It has been disappointment. We have mayors of both parties reaching out to their communities right now and basically saying, ignore the governor. Just because the governor has said you don't have to wear a mask doesn't mean that you shouldn't wear a mask or that it's not important that you wear a mask. And I'll tell you, I am so thankful for the businesses in Austin and around the state that are continuing to mandate masking in their stores, their retail establishments.

I am-- you know, it's up to-- it's really up to us at this point as individual choices. It's the community pulling together now the same way we did over the last two weeks with the power outage and the water outage. It's up to us at this point to protect one another.

ADAM SHAPIRO: But Mayor Adler, I'm not defending Governor Abbott, but how much longer could the state have gone? For instance, New York. We have 25% in the city-- 25% capacity indoor restaurants. Masks are not being worn. People eat, so they take the masks off. So whether it's 25% or 100%, I can't imagine in Texas, people are going to wear masks in restaurants. Should the governor have just waited on everything? And if so, how long?

STEVE ADLER: I don't think necessarily the governor needed to wait on everything. You know, as the numbers start going down, we were starting to adjust in our city the risk level moving here within the next few days, probably from a risk level four to a risk level three. And with that, you start changing the occupancy that's allowed in certain places.

So I think that there are some changes you should make, but masking is not among them. Masking is something that you can do in places. You know, certainly, you take your mask off when you eat or when you drink. But when you're out in public and around people otherwise, you should be wearing masks. So I think it's what you do and what you choose to do.

I am concerned about bars 100% occupied with a new order that goes into effect two days before spring break in a town with the University of Texas and Huston-Tillotson and St. Edward's, that we're going to be just setting ourselves up for putting at risk having more and more children in learning in school and keeping businesses open. So the answer to your question is, I think there are some things that you can and should do. But removing and creating ambiguity with respect to masking is just wrong.

SEANA SMITH: Mayor, you mentioned the power outage earlier. I'm curious because you said in the past that you haven't gotten a better explanation, just in terms of what exactly happened from the state. Do you have a better understanding now? And I guess, where do things stand in your city of Austin?

STEVE ADLER: We still don't have the answers we need with respect to the power outage. Every day, it seems like we learn something new. And what we learn today sometimes conflicts with what we thought we learned two days ago. So this is going to be a longer process as we look back, as we need to do to make sure that this never happens again.

In my city, we have-- most everybody has power pretty much right now. We have pockets of people that don't have water, not because the public water system has any issues, but we have lines that have broken as they're on private property, as they lead to apartment complexes. We're helping the owners of those properties and the tenants work through those lists so that we can get more and more people on. We're still giving out water and giving out food. So this is still mid-crisis for a small group, but very real mid-crisis for some people in the city.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Mayor, we saw those stories up here in New York about the people in Texas getting these horrific electric utility bills for $18,000, $20,000. Do you know of any cases like that? Or are those anomalies? Is anything being done to help people who got those terrifically horrid bills?

STEVE ADLER: So there's discussions with our state legislature in session right now for some kind of state action. There are some discussions today about rolling back retroactively some of the rules that existed. Here in Austin, we own our own power company. And we could then set a lot of the risk tolerance policies and risk prevention items for our city so we-- our users don't face that risk of this spike in utility bills. But my understanding is, is that there are many people in the state that are not as fortunate.

SEANA SMITH: Mayor Adler of Austin, Texas, we always appreciate you taking the time to join us. Thanks so much for joining us today. And we look forward to having you back once again.