‘We can’t control ignorance’: Abbott’s mask mandate reversal puts businesses in charge of their own safety, activist says

The director of LULAC Texas responds after people threaten to call ICE on staff at Mexican restaurant

A sign requiring make is seen near diners eating at a restaurant on the River Walk, Wednesday, March 3, 2021, in San Antonio. Gov. Greg Abbott says Texas is lifting a mask mandate and lifting business capacity limits next week. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

SAN ANTONIO – Gov. Greg Abbott should share the responsibility if a furious customer hurls threats or assaults toward a business that continues its own face-covering requirements, a San Antonio-based civil rights activist said.

Rudy Rosales, the director of LULAC Texas, said Abbott has put business owners and employees “in charge of their own welfare” with the announcement that he would lift mask mandates and remove capacity limits on businesses at the same time.

The Republican governor last week said “it is now time to open Texas 100%,” adding that “Texas is in a far better position now” to ease restrictions because of the increase in COVID-19 vaccinations and decrease in hospitalization rates.

But with local jurisdictions no longer having the ability to enforce face mask restrictions or fines, Texas businesses are facing the obstacle of how to keep workers safe — from both the coronavirus and furious customers — when the mandate is lifted on Wednesday.

One Texas restaurant named Picos saw that difficulty when it was threatened by customers who were mad that the business was going to continue requiring masks.

Monica Richards, co-owner of the Houston-based Mexican restaurant, told The Washington Post that the business received hateful messages from people, including some who threatened to report employees to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“It was just horrific,” Richards told the Washington Post. “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.”

Rosales told KSAT that he is “very upset” about those threats — and the possibility of further attacks that may come out of the lifting of the mandate.

“If anything, god forbid, were to happen, we would call for the governor and others to reconsider the fact that they have put, indirectly or directly ... these businesses basically in charge of their own welfare,” he said. “We can’t control ignorance.”

He added that Abbott should share responsibility “if anything, god forbids, happens” to the owners or staff of Picos restaurant, or any other Texas business.

He recommended for business owners and staff to stay vigilant and contact local law enforcement if they feel threatened.

LULAC Texas believes Abbott was premature in the new order, Rosales said, because the state is not out of the woods yet.

Lifting the mask mandate at this point in the pandemic “defies common basic sense and logic,” he said.

The Texas Department of State Health Services reported more than 2,400 new cases of COVID-19 and 84 new deaths due to the virus on Sunday. Health officials estimate more than 137,00 cases are active in Texas as of Sunday.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 has ticked down in recent weeks, hitting 4,721 on Saturday.

Over the past week, more than one in eight coronavirus tests have come back positive in Texas, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The data show more than 8% of Texans are fully vaccinated against the virus.

If a county sees an uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations, county judges can enforce additional COVID-19 mitigation strategies, but they cannot impose face mask restrictions or fines.

Still, health experts are urging people to continue covering their faces regardless of state rules.

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