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Before the masks: Island businesses reflect on past spring breaks

Business owners cautiously hopeful for upcoming one
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Posted at 8:14 PM, Mar 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-05 21:14:26-05

March 2020 — In the early days, it was a moment in time before terms like “social distancing” and “masking up” weren’t second-nature to many Texans. As innocent as it was for people to combat the virus with violent hand-washing and refraining to touch one’s face, the the reality of COVID-19 would create major changes in the coming weeks.

According to previous reports, on March 5, 2020, there were only four confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the state of Texas. At that point, concerns tied to the virus in the Coastal Bend were far and few between.

Right before the start of spring break, KRIS 6 News spoke with businesses in Padre Island on March 5, 2020, to see if they had any fears tied to the coronavirus.

Jessica Chappel, owner of Padre Poke, had voiced excitement overall.

“We’re ready, we’re obviously staffing up,” Chappel said. “Proper hand sanitization, and no direct contact with the guests, we sanitize our tables after people leave.”

After opening in November 2019, her restaurant would soon be shuttered as a result of Governor Greg Abbott’s closing of bars, restaurants and schools on March 19, 2020.

A year later from that interview, we revisited with Chappel. Their time since then has been difficult.

“We went from a crazy spring break line out the door to having to sell groceries to survive,” she said. “Those words burning in my head, like, ‘Oh, it will be OK, it’s just like the flu, we’ll handle it like we do everything else.’ — but I don’t think anyone was really properly prepared for what was going to happen.”

Chappel said she also ended up having to filter in money from her private chef business Ruby Ladle in order to make payroll for her Padre Poke employees.

A year in review, Chappel said she applauds the governor’s decision to reopened businesses completely, but wishes the mask mandate would have been given more time before it was lifted.

“I feel like This should have been a step-by-step process,” she said. “Now we’re open up 100 percent, and no masks next week in the middle of one of the busiest times.”

Personally, Chappel will be limiting her restaurant to a 50 percent capacity, as most of their sales come out of takeout orders anyway. She doesn’t expect another closure to follow with the complete opening of her state, but said she is working to keep her staff safe.

“I have a lot of young people that work for me, so that’s my number one priority,” Chappel said. “After that, it’s community outreach and making sure that people are safe in the community, and then third of that — is obviously the food and the hospitality aspect, but safety is always going to be first for me and this restaurant.”

With expectations of a massive amount of both locals and out-of-state travelers, Chappel and others hope that some degree of social distancing is practiced.

“There’s a lot of lives on the line, and I think a lot of people either don’t believe in it, or they don’t care. And they say those people should stay home, and I just don’t agree,” she said. “I think if everyone does their part, then everyone will be OK.”