Report on Wilson restaurant becomes latest flashpoint on debate over masks
Posted October 1, 2020 5:59 p.m. EDT
Updated October 2, 2020 4:07 p.m. EDT
Wilson, N.C. — Supporters of a well-known Wilson restaurant are defending the establishment and pushing back on the need to wear masks during the coronavirus pandemic.
An Asheville man visited Parker's Barbecue last weekend while in Wilson for his son's soccer tournament and reported workers without masks behind the counter and in the kitchen.
"Let me put it this way, it was a horror show," Robert Green told WRAL News. "There were a dozen people behind the counter in the kitchen area, very small kitchen area, and none of them, not a one, was wearing a mask."
Since the story aired on Monday, the reaction on social media has been strong. A Facebook page showing support for Parker’s is growing, with more than 26,000 members as of Friday.
"They have awakened a sleeping giant right here in Wilson," Steve Bartlett said on a Facebook video.
Customers are showing their support for the restaurant by paying a visit – a mass gathering at Parker's is scheduled for noon Saturday – and posting online.
“I am going to tell you, there are enough folks out there right now, conservative people, who are getting tired of this," Bartlett said.
Wilson Police have been called to the restaurant five times, but no citations have been given.
"Our concern will always be the safety of our citizens, so we will always continue to follow up on any complaints and concerns through coordinated efforts with our businesses, Health Department and District Attorney's Office," the police department said in a statement.
Wilson County Health Director Teresa Ellen said her staff has received 21 complaints about Parker's and have gone to the restaurant nine times to educate manager and workers about virus-related precautions.
"The restaurant has been great to work with," Ellen said in a statement. "As I have stated before, we want to be great health partners and not punitive. Parker's posts an A-rating as of their last site visit. ... We work very hard to partner for health and safety, and we are committed to continuing to do this with all of our restaurants."
Eric Lippard, one of the co-owners of Parker’s, said workers have their temperatures checked before each shift and that the restaurant has no known coronavirus cases among its staff.
Many who are loyal to Parker's weren't happy with WRAL's story, saying it hurt a small business. They defended the owners online, saying they have done much for the Wilson community.
One person posted masks should not be mandatory, but up to the individual. Another encouraged people to use their vote to change the "crazy rules."
One man even encouraged President Donald Trump to visit Parker's. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who is running for governor, already has visited to show his support, according to his campaign.
In yet another post, a woman said wearing a mask should be a choice and that data doesn't support the argument that masks are needed.
"All of the science I have seen is overwhelmingly positive in terms of how helpful these masks are," said Emily Sickbert-Bennett, infection prevention director at UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill.
Sickbert-Bennett noted that coronavirus is spread through particles from the nose and mouth – even from those without symptoms – and masks can prevent that transmission. Masks also keep people from touching their mouths and noses with dirty hands, she said.
“It is very disheartening to hear the community is not embracing this method that is so simple and so easy for all of us to do," she said. "We really don’t want to take care of the next patients coming in because they were not following these precautions."