Elaine Roberts, a bagger at a supermarket, tried to be careful. She put on gloves and stopped riding the bus to work, instead relying on her father to drive her. She wore masks — in space-themed fabrics stitched by her sister — as she stacked products on shelves, helped people to their cars and retrieved carts from the parking lot.
But many customers at the Randalls store in a Houston suburb did not wear them, she noticed, even as coronavirus cases began rising in early June. Gov. Greg Abbott, who had pushed to reopen businesses in Texas, was refusing to make masks mandatory and blocked local officials from enforcing mask requirements.
Ms. Roberts, 35, who has autism and lives with her parents, got sick first. Then her father, Paul, and mother, Sheryl, were hospitalized. While no one can be certain how Elaine Roberts was infected, her older sister, Sidra Roman, blamed grocery customers who she felt had put her family in danger.
“Wearing a piece of cloth, it’s a little uncomfortable,” she said. “It’s a lot less uncomfortable than ventilators, dialysis lines, all of those things that have had to happen to my father. And it’s not necessarily you that’s going to get sick and get hurt.”
What happened to the Robertses is in many ways the story of Texas, one of the nation’s hot spots. For weeks, politicians were divided over keeping the economy open, citizens were polarized about wearing masks, and doctors were warning that careless behavior could imperil others.
In southeast Texas, communities already battered by the pandemic faced a new but no less frightening foe on Saturday, as Hurricane Hanna slammed the coast with heavy rains and winds.