What the Rollback of Mask Mandates Means for Small Businesses
February 15, 2022 | Last Updated on: July 27, 2022
February 15, 2022 | Last Updated on: July 27, 2022
In this article we’ll discuss:
Two years of trying to live and work around the limitations of a global coronavirus pandemic have pushed many Americans to their breaking point. Even with an increase of Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations caused by the omicron variant, the general population is ready to get back to normal.
Americans from both the Republican and Democratic parties are feeling the effects of Covid fatigue. Two years of inconstant regulations, social distancing, businesses being forced to close and then reopening, varying statewide mask mandates, and ever-changing guidance from Public Health Officials and from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), has everyone feeling a little (a lot!) burnt out.
To make matters worse, the pandemic itself has become highly politicized. While everyone agrees that the pandemic has been disruptive, and we all want to get back to our pre-pandemic normal, not everyone agrees on the best methods to reach this goal. For the most part, the debate over how to handle the pandemic is divided along party lines, with Republican-leaning states on one side and the Democratic-leaning states on the other.
Blue states have, up to this point, put more restrictions in place to attempt to stop the spread of the virus, while red states have largely left it up to businesses and other organizations to decide and enforce their own Covid-19 restrictions.
This has led to tensions between those who want to wear masks, social distance, and be around vaccinated people and those who find these precautions overly restrictive. And unfortunately, in some cases, it’s also led to tensions between small business owners and their patrons.
Many businesses have suffered during the pandemic, but every business has been affected. While some restaurants and bars closed either temporarily or permanently, others, including large corporations, sent their employees home to work remotely.
Meanwhile, employees began reevaluating their careers, leading to the great resignation. In 2022, some have gone back to the office, others will forever be remote with their schedules, while a record number have quit their jobs and are either starting businesses, taking a break, or jumping into new careers.
Not to mention all of the new local, state, and federal regulations that have been put in place, removed, and then put in place again during the various waves of the virus.
In other words, doing business during the pandemic hasn’t been easy for anyone.
Thankfully, at this point, the majority of Americans are vaccinated and nearly one in three have already had the disease at least once. So as the Omicron wave passes and new cases and hospitalizations decrease, there is reason to hope that the pandemic is on its last legs.
While many people are still trying to take personal precautions to protect themselves and schools and businesses across the country are still trying to protect their teachers, students, and employees by putting in place their own mask orders and vaccine requirements, local governments seem to be giving in to public pressure.
And now, after months of public discourse and legal actions, state Governors across the country started rolling back their mask mandates in mid-February 2022.
Some states, like Texas, Mississippi, and Florida, have never instituted a mask mandate, so small businesses in these states have been left to decide whether their employees and customers were required to wear face coverings on location.
Other states, like New York and California, have had strict mask mandates, so the recent decisions to end these statewide mandates may put some small businesses in the difficult position of deciding whether they will continue to ask their employees or patrons to wear masks, or whether they are comfortable following the new state guidelines.
Here’s a list of a few of the changes coming soon:
The state of California has had some of the strictest mask mandates in the U.S., but on Tuesday, February 15th, the state will end the requirement for wearing masks in indoor public places for people who can provide proof of vaccination. It is unclear when the mandates will be rolled back for the non-vaccinated.
In a public statement, Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, the state’s director of public health noted, “Omicron has loosened its hold on California, vaccines for children under 5 are around the corner and access to COVID-19 treatments is improving. With things moving in the right direction, we are making responsible modifications to COVID-19 prevention measures, while also continuing to develop a longer-term action plan for the state.”
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced that the state will be putting a stop to their mask mandates on February 28, 2022. This will leave it up to the state’s local officials and business owners to decide whether or not they want to enforce their own mandates.
Just last week, the Governor of Delaware announced an end to the state’s mask mandate effective on Friday, February 11th for workplaces and indoor settings. However, public schools will be required to keep their indoor mask mandate until March 31, 2022.
The state of Montana followed suit when it decided to end its mask mandates on February 12, 2022, for indoor public places. Governor Greg Gianforte had been hesitant to implement the mask mandate in the first place back in 2021, and has moved in-step with many other states in ending the state’s mask mandate just recently.
New Jersey’s Gov Phil Murphy recently signed an executive order to extend the state’s public health emergency and Covid-19 policies for at least one more month.
New York state and New York City, in particular, have had some of the strictest mask mandates for people working and interacting in public places.
For months on end, New Yorkers have been required to mask up while shopping at grocery stores, attending theaters, and while using public transportation.
In addition to the state mask requirement, New York also instituted a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for residents and visitors wanting to enjoy some of their favorite public activities like eating indoors at restaurants. Given New York City’s dense population and the rough start the city had at the beginning of the pandemic, these restrictions made sense.
These mandates drew a great deal of criticism from Republican State leaders, like Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. These governors ignored CDC health experts and did not put strict Covid-19 restrictions in place, and also seemingly went out of their way to make it more difficult for business and schools to enforce their own mask orders.
Several groups and organizations in New York City have also been critical of the vaccine mandate and face mask order, even filing lawsuits and taking both legal actions against the state.
On February 9, New York’s Gov. Hochul explained in a press conference the rollback of mask and vaccine mandates for the state and unveiled the plan for battling the Coronavirus moving forward.
As of February 10th, 2022 New York removed its vaccine and mask mandates and is allowing businesses to decide for themselves whether or not they want to continue to have employees and customers wear face coverings or if they will allow unvaccinated people into their business.
However, masks will still be required for Federal buildings, hospitals, nursing homes, and other health institutions where people with health disabilities or are vulnerable to becoming seriously ill from the Coronavirus.
The main thing that the rollback means for small business owners is that if you appreciated the mask mandates and would like to continue them on your own, the responsibility is now on you. If previously, you could point to state guidelines to avoid conflict with employees or customers, now you will have to personally make the decision whether or not to make masks mandatory.
Depending on where your business is located, your stakeholders may be happy… or upset, depending on what you decide to do. It is likely several of your employees will push back against any Covid-19 restrictions you put into place, citing the recent changes in state requirements, but you may also have employees who have a higher risk level or live with immunocompromised family members, who may push back if you loosen restrictions.
Whatever you decide, use a caring, compassionate approach, and clearly explain your reasoning if you think you will have pushback. You may also want to invite staff to provide their input privately before announcing your decision.
You can use a similar approach with your customers. If your business has a different protocol than the norm in your community, be proactive about explaining your reasons why, while maintaining a nonjudgmental stance towards those who disagree with you.
Regardless of whether or not your workplace will continue to enforce a mask order, it’s important to stay on top of current CDC guidance on the matter. While things are improving, the future remains unknown, and it looks like we will be learning how to live with Covid-19 for some time now. You certainly don’t have to become an expert on public health, but just like with all workplace safety issues, as a small business owner, you should know how to keep your employees as safe as reasonably possible.
Currently, the CDC is still pushing for individuals to get vaccinated and/or boosted as soon as possible, they are also still firmly stating that everyone should continue wearing masks in public places to avoid the spread of the virus. This is true regardless of a person’s vaccination status since not everyone is able to get the vaccine and breakthrough cases do still happen.
Trying to keep a small business afloat during a global pandemic is new territory for everyone and unfortunately, there are no easy answers or solutions.
At the end of the day, each small business owner has to weigh the benefits of enforcing a mask mandate against the risks of being more relaxed. Without the state or federal government enforcing a mask mandate or using an executive order to put a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for workers in place, the final decision about safety precautions ultimately resides with you.
For some companies, a mask-wearing policy in public places may be the best option. For others, leaving it up to employees may be the best option. And for still others, creating a remote-work environment may be the best of both worlds.
Need a little help navigating the complications of running a small business in the era of Covid-19? Click here to view our list of helpful resources.
December 1, 2022
November 30, 2022
November 29, 2022