By Meryl Kornfield

When the coronavirus pandemic hit and restaurant owners faced difficult decisions, the Richards family that owns Picos, a Mexican restaurant in Houston, quickly adapted to continue sharing their Latin cuisine — from selling to-go margarita kits to stationing a mariachi band at the curbside pickup.

The outside of Houston’s Picos Mexican restaurant. Staffers faced threats after the restaurant announced it would continue requiring masks when Gov. Greg Abbott (R) lifted the statewide mask mandate. (Monica Richards)

This week, after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Tuesday that he would rescind the statewide mask mandate while the vast majority of residents remain unvaccinated, the tough choice to enforce public health guidance fell to business owners, and Picos announced it would continue requiring masks.

But, after such a challenging year, the reaction to their decision was disheartening, co-owner Monica Richards said: Several people sent hateful messages through social media and called the restaurant, threatening to report staffers to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“It was just horrific,” Richards said. “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.”

‘Masks required’ signs are coming down after Texas, Mississippi lift coronavirus restrictions

Abbott’s decision to lift the mandate will make Texas the largest state to not require masks, which has not come easily for many businesses that are navigating enforcement mask rules to protect employees and customers while facing backlash.

Masks, which health experts say are among the most effective ways to curb the spread of the coronavirus, have become a partisan symbol, with one conservative group planning a mask burning party for March 10, the day the order is lifted.

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