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How Businesses Are Adjusting to New CDC Mask Guidelines

Restaurant worker wearing a face mask indoors.

Willie B. Thomas / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • The CDC announced new guidelines for fully vaccinated people, saying they can safely be indoors without masks on.
  • Some major retailers have stopped requiring vaccinated people to wear masks in their stores.
  • Mask rules will vary by business.

Last week, the CDC updated its mask guidance, saying that fully vaccinated people could forego masks and social distancing both indoors and outdoors. This excludes areas where wearing masks is required by local or state law or workplace guidance.

The abrupt change in recommendation left many businesses scrambling to decide how to enforce mask use in their own spaces. Businesses must now decide whether to treat customers and employees differently based on their immunizations and if they'll require masks at all.

“No Shirt, No Shoes, No Mask”

Businesses can continue to require that customers and employees continue to wear masks indoors if they deem it important to the health of their staff or community.

“This is the no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service situation," Scott Burris, JD, professor law and director of the Center for Public Health Law Research at Temple University, tells Verywell. "Businesses generally have a right to set the terms under which they offer their services, as long as those terms are not prohibited by law."

However, it can be a challenge for individual businesses to enforce such mandates, especially in communities where social norms or local ordinances tend to be lax about mask-wearing.

“It's not at all clear how you successfully create a world in which people who are not vaccinated keep wearing their masks, and people who are not vaccinated allowed to stop wearing their masks," Burris says. "And that's the problem that businesses face."

For some business owners, the new mask mandates were a welcome change. Bryan Striegler is a wedding photographer based in Arkansas. When he’s on the job, he may interact with ten different businesses and hundreds of guests, often with different standards about masking up during the ceremony and reception.

“Weddings and photography are a very personal thing," Striegler writes in an email to Verywell. "It's been hard to communicate the past year while wearing a mask. My voice is muffled and people can't see my expressions. I was at a wedding this last weekend and it was the first one since early 2020 that I didn't wear a mask. It was great, and no one seemed to mind.”

He says as long as the marrying couple and venue say it’s ok, he’ll no longer be wearing masks at future shoots. 

In some cases, businesses will continue requiring employees to wear masks for the health and safety of customers.

"With open food displayed at our restaurant, our employees will continue to wear masks now and even after vaccinations," Sunny Ilyas, CEO of Vale Food Co, a restaurant chain in Florida, tells Verywell. "We want our customers to feel safe when they walk through our doors."

What This Means For You

If you’re not yet fully vaccinated (two weeks after your last required dose), you must continue wearing a mask in indoor spaces that aren’t your home. The CDC says that people who are fully vaccinated may safely go maskless in most indoor and outdoor settings. However, you must continue to adhere to local and state guidelines. Most businesses have the right to refuse service to customers who don’t follow their masking requirements.

How Are Major Chains Handling It?

Some of the nation’s major businesses are easing their masking rules following the CDC guidance. Trader Joe’s was the first to drop mask requirements for shoppers in their stores. The company will operate on the honor system, trusting customers to follow guidelines

Kroger, the largest U.S. supermarket chain, announced that fully vaccinated customers and most fully vaccinated employees no longer needed to wear masks in the stores. Non-vaccinated employees and customers and employees, however, were still asked to wear masks. In Walmart, too, fully vaccinated customers and employees may go mask-less in their stores.

Walt Disney World will still require face coverings indoors, but masks can now be ditched in outdoor areas.

“This is very big news…particularly if anybody’s been in Florida in the middle of the summer with a mask on," Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek said in a call with investors. "That could be quite daunting."

States which have officially adopted the CDC guidelines for mask-wearing and social distancing, or plan to do so in the next month, include:

  • New York
  • Colorado
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • West Virginia

Other states are maintaining their current guidelines or haven’t yet announced whether they would follow suit with the CDC.

Protecting Employees

Some public health experts warn that dropping mask guidelines without requiring proof of vaccination, will put unvaccinated people including children, immunocompromised people, and essential workers who interface with the public, at an increased risk of infection.

“While we all share the desire to return to a mask-free normal, today’s CDC guidance is confusing and fails to consider how it will impact essential workers who face frequent exposure to individuals who are not vaccinated and refuse to wear masks,” Marc Perrone, international president of the Union of Food and Commercial Workers an organization which represents 1.3 million essential food and retail workers, said in a press release.

“Millions of Americans are doing the right thing and getting vaccinated, but essential workers are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local COVID safety measures," Perrone said in the statement. "Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police?”

Respecting Businesses’ Guidelines 

While individual retailers and businesses continue to grapple with the new guidance, some industry leaders urge customers to continue being mindful that they must defer to the guidelines set by the businesses.

“It is critical for customers to remember the CDC announcement is guidance and that many state and local jurisdictions still have mask mandates in place that retailers must follow,” Lisa LaBruno, a senior executive vice president at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said in a statement.

Beyond the rules and regulations set by federal, state or local governments, Burris says creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and concern for safety is important for navigating out of the pandemic. 

“All of us who are unvaccinated should collaborate in in protecting each other and setting a norm of protecting each other,” Burris says.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People. Updated May 13, 2021.