In Texas, clashes over masks


A sign promotes mask-wearing at a bar as the state of Texas prepares to lift its mask mandate and reopen businesses to full capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic in Houston, Texas, US, March 9, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

Texas is "100 percent'' open on Wednesday for businesses, and masks are no longer required by state order, but the lifting of the regulation has left many businesses frustrated to have to deal with the highly politicized issue of mask-wearing.

Immediately following Republican Governor Greg Abbott's announcement on March 2 that "it is now time to open Texas 100 percent", the San Antonio-based grocery chain H-E-B announced that it will "encourage" instead of "require" customers to continue to wear masks in its stores. That decision caused a backlash from loyal customers and was criticized by two members of the San Antonio City Council.

CEO Scott McClelland told the Houston Chronicle that belligerent customers have caused nearly 2,000 in-store incidents related to masks at Houston stores alone. H-E-B, founded in Texas in 1905, has 400 stores in Texas and Mexico and 185,000 employees.

McClelland said that of all the issues the grocery chain has dealt with over the last year, masks are the most polarizing because in part they are used as a political weapon.

A Houston H-E-B store manager described such incidents to the website Vice last December: "Many have become verbally and even physically abusive in some stores. I have been personally told by customers that HEB does not honor the rights they fought for in the war, told they have medical concerns with masks, and I was violating their rights and HIPAA laws."

"What's important to me is, I've got to ensure for the physical safety of both my employees and customers in the store," McClelland said. "That's what we have been doing, and frankly it's the same thing we'll continue to do." 

However, loyal customers accused H-E-B of putting profit ahead of customers' health safety. One online comment reads: "He [McClelland] is punishing loyal customers for a minority who exhibit disruptive behavior." 

"[It] seems H-E-B wants to play the left and the right on the same issue," reads another online comment.

The backlash prompted H-E-B to reverse its policy and to issue another statement on Friday regarding masks: "While statewide policy has changed, our store protocol has not. Mask use at our stores will remain."

While H-E-B reversed its policy, some businesses have faced intimidation for requiring masks.

Picos, a Mexican restaurant in Houston, announced that it would continue to require masks. That drew a few hateful messages on social media. Some called the restaurant, threatening to report staffers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"It was just horrific," Picos co-owner Monica Richards told The Texas Tribune. "People don't understand unless you're in our business what it felt like, how hard it was to go through everything we went through during COVID. For people to be negative toward us for trying to remain safe, so that this doesn't continue to happen, just makes zero sense to us."

Another Houston Mexican restaurant, Cantina Barba, had similar experiences. 

"This has been ongoing through COVID. We've had threats of calling ICE. I had one guy just stand there and berate one of my bartenders and tell her, 'You're an absolute idiot, you don't know what you're doing. If you think these masks are going to save your life, you're stupid,' blah, blah, blah. Nobody wants to deal with that stuff," co-owner Steven O'Sullivan told the Tribune.

Al Jara, owner of the Houston bar Marquis II, bemoaned having to take a stand on the politically charged issue of masks: "I don't believe the onus should be on small business, especially in the hospitality industry. Over the last year, we've been hurt the most, and requiring us now to take a side on the mask isn't right in my opinion."

Last week, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo stepped in to show support for private businesses requiring masks. 

"Private businesses enjoy property rights and may require folks to wear a mask," he wrote on Twitter. "Please respect their property rights. If you decline to wear a mask and are asked to leave and refuse, you may be committing the offense of criminal trespass."

Acevedo encouraged businesses to call police for help if someone won't leave the store and said those who don't like a business' policy can go elsewhere. 

Abbott's decision to lift the mandate will make Texas the largest state to not require masks, but the state capital Austin is keeping a mask requirement in place.

Austin Chief Medical Officer Mark Escott announced Tuesday the state's fourth-largest city will remain in stage 4, the second-highest risk level. That stage advises individuals to avoid nonessential travel and recommends that businesses operate at 25 to 50 percent capacity, in addition to the wearing of face coverings. The rules are in effect until April 15 and require all over age 10 to wear a face covering. 

The majority of Texas restaurant owners say they will continue requiring staff to wear masks, but they are split on making the same demands of customers, according to the Texas Restaurant Association, which informally surveyed its members this week. 

The association's updated guidance recommends restaurants require employees to wear masks and encourage guests to do the same, spokesperson Anna Tauzin said.

If a restaurant requires masks, it is unfair to argue the choice infringes on business, Tauzin said. "This is a decision business owners are making, and it's right for them."

德克萨斯州周三对企业“100%”开放,州法令不再要求佩戴口罩,但法规的取消使许多企业不得不应对高度政治化的佩戴口罩问题感到沮丧。就在共和党州长格雷格·艾伯特(Greg Abbott月2日宣布“现在是100%开放德克萨斯州的时候了”之后,总部位于圣安东尼奥的杂货店连锁店H-E-B宣布将“鼓励”而不是“要求”顾客继续在商店里戴口罩。这一决定引起了忠诚顾客的强烈反对,并受到圣安东尼奥市议会两名成员的批评。首席执行官斯科特·麦克莱兰告诉《休斯顿纪事报》,好战的顾客仅在休斯顿商店就造成了近2000起与口罩相关的店内事件。H-E-B成立于1905年的得克萨斯州,在得克萨斯州和墨西哥有400家店铺,员工18.5万人。麦克莱兰说,在食品连锁店去年处理的所有问题中,口罩是最极端的,因为在某种程度上它们被用作政治武器。去年12月,一名休斯顿H-E-B商店经理在Vice网站上描述了此类事件:“许多人在一些商店里变得言语甚至身体虐待。顾客亲自告诉我,HEB不尊重他们在战争中争取的权利,告诉他们对口罩有医疗问题,我侵犯了他们的权利和HIPAA法律。"

“对我来说重要的是,我必须确保我的员工和商店顾客的人身安全,”麦克莱兰说。“这就是我们一直在做的事情,坦率地说,这也是我们将继续做的事情。”然而,忠诚的顾客指责H-E-B将利润置于顾客健康安全之上。一条网上评论写道:“他(麦克莱兰)正在惩罚少数表现出破坏性行为的忠诚顾客。”另一条在线评论称:“(看起来)H-E-B想在同一个问题上左右逢源。”。这种反弹促使H-E-B改变了政策,并在周五发布了另一份关于口罩的声明:“虽然全州的政策已经改变,但我们的商店协议没有改变。我们商店将继续使用口罩。”虽然海航改变了政策,但一些企业因要求佩戴口罩而面临恐吓。休斯顿的一家墨西哥餐馆皮科宣布将继续需要口罩。这在社交媒体上引发了一些仇恨信息。一些人打电话给餐馆,威胁要向移民和海关执法局(ICE)举报员工。“这太可怕了,”皮科公司的共同所有者莫妮卡·理查兹告诉《德克萨斯论坛报》。“除非你从事我们的业务,否则人们不会理解在COVID期间经历的一切有多难。人们对我们试图保持安全持否定态度,这样这种情况就不会继续发生,对我们来说毫无意义。”另一家休斯顿墨西哥餐厅Cantina Barba也有类似的经历。“这一直通过COVID进行。我们收到了打电话给洲际交易所的威胁。我让一个人站在那里斥责我的一个调酒师,并告诉她,‘你是个十足的白痴,你不知道自己在做什么。如果你认为这些面具能救你的命,那你就太傻了。没有人想处理这些东西,”共同所有者史蒂文·奥沙利文告诉论坛。休斯顿酒吧马奎斯二世的老板阿尔·捷瑞哀叹不得不在充满政治色彩的口罩问题上表明立场:“我认为责任不应该落在小企业身上,尤其是酒店业。在过去的一年里,我们受到的伤害最大,要求我们现在站在面具一边在我看来是不对的。”上周,休斯顿警察局长阿特·阿塞韦多出面支持需要口罩的私营企业。“私营企业享有财产权,可能会要求人们戴口罩,”他在推特上写道。“请尊重他们的财产权。如果你拒绝戴面具,并被要求离开和拒绝,你可能犯了非法侵入罪。”Acevedo鼓励企业在有人不离开商店的情况下报警求助,并表示那些不喜欢企业政策的人可以去其他地方。雅培公司取消授权的决定将使德克萨斯州成为最大的不需要口罩的州,但该州首府奥斯汀将保持口罩的要求。奥斯汀首席医疗官马克·埃斯科特周二宣布,该州第四大城市仍将处于第四阶段,即第二高风险水平。该阶段建议个人避免不必要的旅行,并建议企业在25%至50%的产能下运营,此外还应佩戴面罩。这些规定在4月15日之前有效,要求所有10岁以上的人都戴口罩。德克萨斯州餐馆协会本周非正式调查了其成员,根据该协会的说法,大多数德克萨斯州餐馆老板表示,他们将继续要求员工戴口罩,但他们在对顾客提出相同要求方面存在分歧。该协会的最新指南建议餐馆要求员工戴口罩,并鼓励客人也这样做,发言人安娜·陶津说。陶津说,如果餐馆需要口罩,认为这种选择侵犯了生意是不公平的。“这是企业主正在做出的决定,对他们来说是正确的。”

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