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Parents wear masks at restaurant to protect immunocompromised infant, owner makes them leave

Texas recently lifted its mask mandate, leaving those most vulnerable to COVID-19 helpless. One couple shared their experience of being turned away for wearing masks at a local eatery.

Parents wear masks at restaurant to protect immunocompromised infant, owner makes them leave
Image Source: Paiboon Traitipdachawut / EyeEm / Getty Images

Natalie Wester and her husband Jose Lopez-Guerrero joined a group of 10 friends at Hang Time Sports Grill & Bar in Rowlett, about 20 miles northeast of Dallas, Texas, on September 10. Both Wester and Lopez-Guerrero wore masks in an effort to protect their four-month-old immunocompromised son (he was born with cystic fibrosis). However, the owner of the restaurant, identified only as Tom, had a strict "no-mask" policy. Therefore, the couple was forced to choose between taking their masks off or leaving the restaurant. According to a waitress at the restaurant, the owner was "tired of being told what to do by politics" in the United States, CNN reports.


The new parents were unaware of the policy when they were first seated. "Upon us walking in the restaurant, there was a band playing, and it was really loud," Wester shared in an interview with the news outlet. "And the hostess, she had asked for our IDs and she did mention something about removing our masks, but I honestly just thought it was for checking our IDs. And again, I couldn't even hear her that well... About 30 minutes in, our waitress comes over and she sits down next to me and she's like, 'Hey, so our manager is over there in the kitchen, and he is not as nice as I am so I came over here to talk to you and unfortunately, this is a political thing, but our manager does not believe in the mask. He's tired of being told what to do by, you know, politics in the country, and so you're going to need to take the mask off.'" 


As the couple had already ordered their meals by the time they were intimated by the waitress, they chose not to make a scene. They simply paid for their meal and left. The mother stated, "You know, I've never been told that before, especially not in Texas. It's usually the opposite way around." Although she and her husband are both fully vaccinated, they choose to take strict precautions in order to protect their infant. This was particularly true during the rare night out the new parents hoped to enjoy. "Anytime we're able to leave [home] we put on a mask, even if it's just, like, walking towards people, if we're out and about," she said. "You know, obviously, it's not like a perfect system; you have to take your mask off to eat, maybe to take photos, things like that, but we do our best."


Unfortunately, the couple's experience at Hang Time Sports Grill & Bar has convinced them that going out is no longer worth the hassle. Although they respect a small business and its policies, the couple did not believe the restaurant handled the situation in a very professional or hospitable manner. Wester explained, "You know, trying to not only take all the steps to get a babysitter or have my son be watched—that's a step in itself—but then going out and having to deal with people like this who are anti-maskers, who are making it like a really political issue when it should be a science issue... It's kind of just made me realize that maybe I shouldn't go out anymore. At least not here in Texas. Not right now. It's just it's not a good environment."


Restaurant owner Tom, on the other hand, disagrees with the couple's approach. "I spent my money on this business, I put my blood, sweat, and tears in this business and I don't want any masks in here," Tom affirmed. "I feel the overall reaction with the masks is ridiculous in the United States right now. So when they [the couple] put their masks on the other night, they were reminded that they were asked at the front to take it off and they didn't want to, so we asked them to leave." Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifted the state's mask mandate and allowed businesses of any type to operate at 100% capacity on March 10. Furthermore, at a county level, judges cannot jail people who do not follow COVID-19 orders. This includes penalizing those who do not wear a mask. Despite the possibility of harming those with disabilities, bans against masks are permissible by federal law.


Therefore, Tom's actions are completely legal. University of Houston Law Center associate professor Emily Berman noted, "For better or for worse, sometimes the law does not prevent people from doing things that are not in the interests of society as a whole." Now, Wester simply hopes sharing their experience will encourage the business owner to act in the best interest of his local community. She reiterated, "[I] encourage the owner to look into his policies and also encourage his customers to maybe take a second look at who they are giving their business to."


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