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Texas bar owner prohibits customers from wearing masks

While public health officials urge people across the country to wear face masks to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, a bar owner in Elgin, Texas, is doing the opposite — turning away customers who wear a mask in the establishment.

Liberty Tree Tavern co-owner Kevin Smith posted a note outside the bar that reads, "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," according local station KXAN.

"It is more of a pushback — the snitches, and the contact tracers out there," said Smith. "This is still a rural county."

Smith told The Washington Post that "being scared all the time isn't good for your health. It suppresses your immune system."

Elgin, which is located just outside of Austin, has at least 53 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The Texas Department of Health and Human Services reports there have been more than 57,900 cases statewide and at least 1,562 deaths.

While some locals welcomed Smith's decision, others call it irresponsible.

"I wasn't allowed to wear a mask when entering - decided it was best to just leave instead after a few minutes of people being rude. Unfortunately, since as a healthy person who's not at risk, I wanted to support a local bar while still being safe and social distancing," wrote one reviewer on the tavern's Facebook page. "I'd rather spend money at a place that respects people's autonomy, life, and health concerns (and doesn't say their health is just "feelings")."

Charles Chamberlain told KXAN that he feels comfortable hanging out at the tavern. "I'm a stage 4 cancer survivor. It's just a choice. He just put that up there to let people know if they aren't feeling good, then they maybe shouldn't come," said Chamberlain. "Everybody is keeping safe distances, they aren't bunching up."

Texas Governor Greg Abbott allowed bars and restaurants to reopen in the Lone Star state last week, with bars to operate at 25% capacity and restaurants at 50% capacity. 

While the Liberty Tree Tavern banished face masks, Smith said customers do need to maintain social distancing of six feet between parties and he says he will adhere to the occupancy limits.

"Sorry for the inconveniences please bare with us thru the ridiculous fearful times," his note reads.

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