Skip to main content

Winter Storm 2021 and the Lifting of COVID-19 Restrictions in Texas

The months of February and March 2021 will be remembered in Texas for unprecedented statewide events. Winter Storm Uri monopolized the state with its fury and collateral damage, beginning Feb. 13, 2021. Meanwhile, March 10, 2021, marked the day Gov. Greg Abbott’s Executive Order GA-34 went into effect, lifting COVID restrictions. In an effort to bring to light the impact of Winter Storm Uri and Executive Order GA-34, the Hobby School of Public Affairs conducted an expansive survey of 1,500 Texas residents, 18 and older. The results of the surveys are summarized in two statewide reports and one on Harris County:

Winter Storm 2021

Lifting the COVID-19 Restrictions in Texas

Winter Storm 2021- Harris County

See below for highlights of the three reports.

Winter Storm 2021

The Hobby School online survey was distributed across 213 Texas counties (91.5% of the state population) served by the Texas Electrical Grid, which is managed by the Electrical Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT). The survey documents Texans’ experiences during the storm and explores preferences among potential changes in policies regarding electricity.  The respondents were matched to a sampling frame on gender, age, ethnicity/race, and education and are representative of the adult population in these 213 counties.  

Highlights

  • More than two out of three (69%) Texans lost electrical power at some point February 14-20, for an average of 42 hours, during which they were without power on average for one single consecutive bloc of 31 hours, rather than for short rotating periods.  
  • Almost half (49%) of Texans lost access to running water during this week period, with the average Texan who lost running water without it for 52 hours.  During this same time frame, the average Texan with running water could not drink it for an average of 40 hours.
  • Other negative effects of the storm include difficulty obtaining food or groceries (75%), the loss of internet service (71%), and difficulty obtaining bottled water (63%).
  • More than three out of four Texans (78%) did not believe that the power outages in their area were carried out in an equitable manner, and 81% believe they would have benefited from more timely and accurate information before, during and after the winter storm.
  • When they lost electrical power and heat, one-fifth (18%) of Texans opted to leave their home.  The most common destination (44%) was a local relative’s home, while only 3% of this one-fifth (fewer than one in two hundred) went to a destination that was outside of the state.
  • Among those Texans who remained in their home without power, more than one in four (26%) used their gas oven or cooktop as a source of heat, and desperate to avoid hypothermia, 8% used a grill or smoker indoors and 5% who used an outdoor propane heater indoors. 
  • Almost three out of four (74%) Texans disapprove of ERCOT’s performance during the winter storm, with 65% strongly disapproving, compared to only 6% who approved.  Almost half of Texans disapprove of Governor Abbott’s performance during the winter storm, compared to 28% who approve.
  • More than half (51%) of Texans are unwilling to pay any additional amount on their monthly electricity bill to safeguard the Texas electrical grid from severe weather, with 25%, 14%, and 6% willing to pay an additional $5, $10, and $20 more a month, respectively.
  •  More than two-thirds (69%) of Texans agree that due to climate change Texas is more likely to be adversely affected by severe weather than 30 years ago.  95% of Democrats agree with this statement compared to 61% of Independents and 46% of Republicans.
  • 59% of Texans believe the most important priority for addressing America’s energy supply is developing alternative sources like wind and solar, while 41% believe it should be expanding exploration and production of oil and natural gas.  85% of Democrats signal developing alternative sources as the priority while 77% of Republicans signal expanding oil and gas.
  • A majority of Texans favors expanding five sources of energy in the United States, all of which are renewable: solar (64%), geothermal (60%), hydrogen (57%), wind (56%), and hydroelectric (51%).  A plurality favors reducing two sources of energy: fracking (40%) and coal (46%).

Media Release, March 29, 2021

Houston Chronicle Op-Ed: Texans want winterization of utilities, study finds. Elected officials must act to prevent another disaster.

 

Lifting the COVID-19 Restrictions in Texas

The survey respondents were asked five questions about Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order (Executive Order GA-34) regarding the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions mandating the use of face coverings and business occupancy limits. The responses were cross-tabulated with ethnicity/race, age, gender, education and partisanship.

Highlights

  • 37% of Texans support the decision to end the statewide mask mandate while 56% oppose the decision.
  • 42% of Texans support the decision to allow all businesses to operate at 100% capacity and 49% oppose it.
  • When provided with the following information, “According to recent data, the daily counts of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in Texas are trending downward, although the rates remain relatively high. The head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other medical experts say that while caseloads are flattening out, variants of the coronavirus could bring another wave of the pandemic and that mask and business capacity restrictions should stay in place at this point in time,” 37% support Governor Abbott’s decision to end Texas’ statewide mask mandate and to allow businesses to operate at 100% capacity in light of the recommendations of medical experts while 51% oppose the decision.
  • Slightly more than one-half of Anglos (52%) support the ending of the mask mandate, double the proportion of Latinos (26%) and five times the proportion of African Americans (10%).
  • Men (44%) are significantly more likely than women (29%) to support Governor Abbott’s decision to end the statewide mask mandate.
  • Men (50%) are significantly more likely than women (35%) to support Governor Abbott’s decision to allow businesses to operate at 100% capacity.
  • Ten times as many Republicans (70%) than Democrats (7%) support Governor Abbott’s decision to end the statewide mask mandate.
  • Republicans (77%) also are significantly more likely than Democrats (12%) to support Governor Abbott’s decision to allow businesses to operate at 100% capacity.
  • When asked whether they agree or disagree with the statement that Governor Abbott’s ending the mask mandate and allowing businesses to operate at 100% capacity will help restore jobs and return a sense of normalcy to Texans’ lives, 44% of Texans agree with the statement and 37% disagree.
  • Three-fifths (60%) of Anglos agree with the statement that Governor Abbott’s decision will restore jobs and return a sense of normalcy to Texans’ lives compared to only 33% of Latinos and 21% of African Americans.
  • Republicans (75%) are significantly more likely than Democrats (19%) to agree with the statement that Governor Abbott’s decision will restore jobs and return a sense of normalcy to Texans’ lives
  • When asked whether they agree or disagree with the statement that Governor Abbott’s ending the statewide mask mandate and allowing businesses to operate at 100% capacity will result in an increase in the number of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and fatalities in Texas, a slight majority (51%) of the respondents agree with the statement compared to slightly less than a third (30%) who disagree with it.
  • Democrats (74%) are significantly more likely than Republicans (28%) to agree with the statement that Governor Abbott’s decision will increase COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
  • When comparing the views of Harris County residents and other Texans, a higher level of support for Governor Abbott’s decisions lifting COVID-19 restrictions are found outside of the state’s largest county. For example, 37% of Texans support Governor Abbott’s decision to end the mask mandate while 26% of Harris County residents support it. Regarding the revocation of the business occupancy limit, 42% of Texans support this decision in contrast to 33% of support found among Harris County residents.

Read the report to learn more about where Texans stand on the discontinuation of the mask mandate and the business occupancy limit, including differences of opinion when considering gender, race/ethnicity, age and partisanship.

Media Release March 25, 2021

 

Winter Storm 2021- Harris County

Harris County, including the county seat of Houston, is the most populous county in Texas with a population of 4.8 million. It ranks third in the United States, behind only Los Angeles County and Cook County (Chicago). In terms of geographic size, Harris County spans an expansive 1,777 miles.

Due to the county’s importance in the state, an oversample of 513 Harris County residents (with a confidence internal of +/-4.3) was collected in the Hobby School’s survey about the 2021 winter storm in Texas. The survey population is representative of the Harris County population 18 and older. 

Highlights

  • More than nine out of every ten (91%) Harris County residents lost electrical power at some point during the winter storm (February 14-20), a proportion that is significantly higher than that found in the other 212 counties (64%) within the Texas electrical grid.
  • The average Harris County resident who lost power was without it for 49 hours, with the largest consecutive number of hours during which they were without power being 39.
  • Almost two-thirds (65%) of Harris County residents were left without running water at some point during the week of February 14-20, a proportion that is significantly higher than that experienced by Texans outside of Harris County (44%).
  • Residents who lost running water in Harris County were without it for an average of 56 hours during the week of February 14-20, and even residents with running water did not have potable water for an average of 57 hours.
  • Nearly two in five (38%) of Harris County residents suffered water damage from burst pipes as a result of the winter storm.
  • Among those residents who remained in their home without power, the most common method utilized to stay warm (by 34%) was to use a natural gas oven or cooktop. In spite of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, 9% of Harris County residents used a grill or smoker indoors while 8% used an outdoor propane heater indoors.
  • Before, during and immediately after the winter storm, more than half of Harris County residents relied either a great deal, somewhat, or a little on four sources of information: Local TV news (70%), neighbors and friends (62%), local government text alerts (56%), and The Weather Channel (51%). The most relied upon (a great deal or somewhat) sources of information were local TV news (54%), local government text alerts (40%), The Weather Channel (35%), and local radio news (32%).
  • Three-fourths (75%) of Harris County residents believed that they would have benefited from more timely and accurate information before, during and, after the winter storm.
  • Harris County residents were asked to evaluate the job performance (including communication with the public) of a set of 11 elected officials, governments, and entities during the winter storm. The proportion who approve of the performance of the individuals, government or entities range from highs of 49% (President Joe Biden) and 48% (Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo), to lows of 12% (the Public Utility Commission [PUC] of Texas) and 9% (ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas).
  • Two-thirds or more of Harris County residents support seven proposed policies to safeguard the state from the effects of severe weather on its energy supply and delivery: require electricity generators to fully winterize/weatherize their plants (73%), require the PUC to review, inspect and approve all weatherization efforts by electric generation companies (73%), require natural gas pipeline companies to fully weatherize (72%), increase the cap on utility company penalties (71%), upgrade building codes to make new construction more climate resilient (69%), require electricity generators to maintain more reserve capacity (68%), and adopt a solar bill of rights (66%).
  • Less than one-third of Harris County residents support allowing electricity generators (21%) or natural gas companies (32%) to charge consumers a fee to pay for weatherization or an increase in electricity reserve capacity (25%).
  • 76% of Harris County residents agree that due to climate change, Texas is today more likely to be adversely affected by severe weather than 30 years ago.
  • 73% of Harris County believe that the most important priority for addressing America’s energy supply is to develop alternative sources such as wind and solar, compared to 27% who believe the priority should be expanding the exploration and production of oil and natural gas. Meanwhile, 56% of other Texans favor developing alternative sources of energy and 44% favor expanding oil and natural gas production. 

Media Release April 8, 2021

 

Research Team

Kirk P. Watson, Dean, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Gail Buttorff, Instructional Assistant Professor, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Renée Cross, Senior Director & Researcher, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Jim Granato, Associate Dean, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Mark P. Jones, James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy's Fellow in Political Science, Rice University; Senior Research Fellow, Hobby School of Public Affairs 

Pablo M. Pinto, Director, Center for Public Policy; Associate Professor, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Savannah Sipole, Research Associate, Hobby School of Public Affairs

Agustín Vallejo, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Hobby School of Public Affairs

 

Additional Hobby School Reports on COVID-19

Texans and the COVID-19 Vaccine

The Effects of COVID-19 on Texas Restaurants

COVID-19 and the Texas Oil & Gas Industry

The Effects of COVID-19 on the Texas Hair Care Industry

The Impact of COVID-19 on Houston Households: A Tale from Two Surveys

The Impact of COVID-19 on Hispanic Entrepreneurs in Houston 

The COVID-19 Pandemic in Austin: Impact, Reaction & Survival