Healthy Americans are safe to go maskless in places where transmission and hospitalizations are low.
Here's what you need to know:
- In places where transmission and hospitalizations are low, healthy Americans are safe to go maskless
- The change in guidelines reflect the current epidemiological landscape, but are subject to change
- Institutions — municipalities, corporations, small businesses, etc. — may enforce their own masking requirements
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has loosened their guidance for mask wearing for most of the country. Today, approximately 90% of Americans can now go without masks indoors. The new guidelines came as most states nationwide relaxed mask mandates.
The CDC emphasized that the change in guidelines reflects the current epidemiological landscape, but was subject to change.
But for now, in places where transmission and hospitalizations are low, healthy Americans are safe to go maskless. The new criteria emphasizes a more holistic view of the risk in the community rather than solely the case count. The guidance is not binding, meaning that institutions — municipalities, corporations, small businesses, etc. — may enforce their own masking requirements.
Additionally, the revised guidelines do not apply to public transport. But as of March 10, 2022, officials say the CDC is developing guidance that will ease the nationwide public transport mask mandate. For now, the White House has confirmed that the mandate remains in place until April 18.
What does this mean for small businesses?
As of March 26 when Hawaii drops its mask mandate, no state in the United States will require masks indoors. Unless your town has specific mask mandates in-place, businesses will no longer be required to enforce mask wearing indoors.
While this is sure to come as a relief to some small business owners (SBOs), it may create challenges for others. Businesses are now on their own to create and enforce COVID-safety rules like masking and vaccine verification. They’ll have to decide if they’ll require masks in any capacity and how to consider the vaccination status of employees and customers.
As any small business owner from the last two years can attest, these are tricky waters to navigate. Businesses have had to comply with changing regulations, but often with little practical guidance on how to enforce the rules. Front-line workers have most commonly been the ones to do so; these are employees who tend to be hourly-wage workers and often lack professional experience.
“It’s been a little frustrating that our hosts have been the ones who have had to enforce it,” said Harrison Smith, General Manager of Boston restaurant Uni. “We’re fortunate that we’re a pretty well-known restaurant. We’ve had resources and a great management team who can support our hosts, but a lot of restaurants haven’t,” he said.
“We’ve had resources and a great management team who can support our hosts, but a lot of restaurants haven’t.”
Default will be no mask
Seattle-based hair stylist Jess Poynter pivoted away from the traditional salon model to a single-suite business model in the early pandemic. “After I moved my business into a single suite, I never really felt worried about my business. Through all the changing restrictions, I could really control the environment, being one-on-one with the client,” she said.
And now, in light of the new guidance from the CDC, she said her default will be no mask. “I let customers know this. But I also tell them that I’m very happy to put one on if they would feel more comfortable,” Poynter said.
However employees and guests feel most comfortable
At Uni, Smith has steadfastly adhered to the most-current recommendations and restrictions — a rollercoaster of changing policies at the Boston restaurant over the past 2 years.
“We’ve been adamant about sticking to the guidance,” Smith said. “When indoor masking recommendations were first dropped last Spring, I let the staff choose, and most chose not to wear them,” he said. “This time around, again, we’re letting our staff and our guests make that decision.”
Smith noted that especially in Boston, where there have been no capacity limits or space requirements in place for restaurants since spring of last year, indoor mask mandates for restaurants made little sense. “It did feel a little performative to have to wear your mask to then sit down next to other guests at the sushi bar,” he said.
Customers are ready to be maskless but are committed to staying safe
They say they’re ready to be maskless, but they’ll still be smart and continue to wear masks when necessary.”
The CDC has been clear that these are the guidelines for today and tomorrow but could change. Smith said he doubts we’ll go back, but he understands why the language is flexible.
“I think they’ve learned. When the CDC first recommended vaccinated people could go without masks indoors last Spring, their language was more absolute which made it difficult to encourage people to wear them again,” said Smith. “I think they wanted the new verbiage to reflect that things could change again.”
Poynter said her clients seem ready to move on but are committed to staying responsible. “They say they’re ready to be maskless, but they’ll still be smart and continue to wear masks when necessary.”