Billionaire Tilman Fertitta on Tuesday called on U.S. residents to wear face coverings in public, saying it is necessary to keep the American economy open during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is so important right now to wear a mask. Our only chance of staying open is the mask,” the chairman and CEO of Houston-based restaurant giant Landry’s said on CNBC’s “Power Lunch.”
Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday the virus is spreading at an “unacceptable rate” in Texas, which has seen a dramatic rise in new cases and coronavirus-linked hospitalizations since Memorial Day.
Abbott’s stay-at-home order expired May 1, but “if we don’t wear masks, we’re going to have to shut down again,” Fertitta said. “Then we’re going to really have an economic problem besides a lot of unhealthy, very sick people out there.”
Fertitta, who also owns the NBA’s Houston Rockets, acknowledged he has largely been on the “conservative side” of the pandemic, particularly as severe outbreaks initially occurred in places such as New York state. Just a few weeks ago, he said, he did not know a single person who was infected by Covid-19.
“I know 100 people that have it now,” he said, including two of his four children. They have since recovered and never fell severely ill, said Fertitta, who began his CNBC interview wearing a black face mask.
Public health experts believe wearing a face mask in public can significantly help in limiting the spread of Covid-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing cloth face coverings in “public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” The governors of some states, such as California, have imposed statewide mask mandates.
Fertitta, whose business empire includes more than 600 restaurants and Golden Nugget casinos, said wearing a mask is, ultimately, about respect for others. People do not need to wear one while driving their car, he said, but it is essential to do so while you’re in public and around other individuals.
He conceded it may be difficult for employees to ask a customer to put on a mask. “I don’t have bouncers. No, I cannot make them wear it. But I can tell you this, they won’t be allowed back,” he said.
Texas is not the only state seeing a worsening of its coronavirus outbreak. Hospitalizations due to Covid-19 were growing in 14 states, including Texas, as of Sunday, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project.
Some of the rise in cases is due to increased testing capacity, but White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci on Tuesday still called it a “disturbing surge.”
As cases have risen, Fertitta said he has “definitely” noticed a decline in consumer activity across his business portfolio, starting late last week and continuing into the weekend.
“Now the numbers are a little distorted because you had Father’s Day in there, so you did a big number, but this is going to be a clean week this week without a holiday,” he said. “It’s not just in Texas or Florida. Remember, I’m in 40 states, and I’m seeing a little pullback everywhere a little bit right now.”
At the same time, Fertitta said he does not think that restaurants — and the NBA, following its scheduled restart in late July — should pause operations entirely if someone involved tests positive for Covid-19. He said those who are sick should be sent home, while the business should check on the health of those in proximity. “You sanitize the establishment, and you have to move on.”
“I just think that if people wear the mask, we can get through this,” he added.