BASTROP, Texas – “No mask allowed.”
That’s the new rule a bar in Elgin, Texas, is asking its patrons to follow, defying the COVID-19 guidance set by county, state and federal leaders.
This week, a sign was posted outside the Liberty Tree Tavern as the bar navigates reopening after the coronavirus pandemic.
“Due to our concern for our customers, if they FEEL (not think) that they need to wear a mask, they should stay at home until they FEEL that it’s safe to be in public without one. Sorry, no mask allowed,” the posting read.
The sign then advised that it would adhere to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s requirements limiting occupancy of bars to 25% and 6 feet of social distancing between parties.
“Sorry for the inconveniences please bear with us thru the ridiculous fearful times,” the sign reads.
Elgin has not been spared from the spread of the coronavirus. The city of about 10,000 has recorded the most known COVID-19 cases of Bastrop County’s three cities — 53 of the county’s 187 cases — and has recorded one of the county’s two coronavirus-related deaths.
Bastrop County and municipal leaders have made efforts to keep their messaging consistent on the guidelines people should follow to minimize the virus’ spread. On April 8, Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape issued an order, which is no longer in effect, that required residents to wear face masks in public. Per CDC guidelines, face masks help prevent the spread of droplets while speaking, or from a cough or sneeze. Anyone caught violating that order could have faced up to 180 days in jail and a fine up to $1,000.
Pape withdrew his face covering directive about three weeks later after Abbott issued an executive order eliminating local enforcement of such requirements as part of his plan to reopen Texas businesses.
The county’s Deputy Director of the Office of Emergency Management Christine Files, who has been leading the county’s coronavirus response, said Wednesday that “we continue to encourage all of our citizens to wear masks” when asked about the rule.
Kevin Smith, who owns Liberty Tree Tavern, did not answer several telephone calls or messages seeking comment Wednesday and was not around when the Bastrop Advertiser of the USA TODAY Network visited the tavern.
Charles Chamberlain is a regular at Liberty Tree and said he has been there about three times unmasked since bars were allowed to reopen on May 22. Chamberlain, 58, is a survivor of stage 4 cancer and the H1N1 virus — someone who would be considered at a higher risk of severe illness if he contracted the virus.
“I was quarantined in the Med Center for 12 months during my cancer treatments in Houston. When I quit my treatments the doctor asked me if I was ready to die, and I looked at him and said, This ain’t even living, it’s existing,’” Chamberlain said. “This quarantine... that’s not living, that’s existing.”
“Going to the bar, going to the lake, going swimming with your friends, barbecuing, fishing — that’s living,” he said.
Inside the bar, Chamberlain said stools and tables have been removed to encourage lower occupancy and social distancing, and he hasn’t yet seen the place get too crowded.
People need to use more common sense, he said, and mask mandates like those ordered by Pape is a clear example of government overreach.
“You should have a choice of what you want to do. If I get it, I get it. If I do, I’ll deal with that. You can’t live forever,” he said.
Follow reporter Brandon Mulder on Twitter: @brand4on
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Elgin, Texas restaurant Liberty Tree Tavern says no masks allowed