While vaccine rollouts continue to advance full steam ahead, the spread of constantly developing, highly transmissible variants is causing an uptick in cases across the country.
Although as of May 28, fully vaccinated people were able to resume their normal activities without having to wear a mask or practice physical distancing in non-healthcare settings, the guidance has since changed again.
At the end of July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its mask-wearing advice for fully vaccinated individuals to recommend that fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission.
The CDC also added mask recommendations for fully vaccinated people who come into contact with a person suspected or confirmed to have Covid-19, 3-5 days after exposure to them. And even after receiving a negative test result, the CDC recommends people should keep wearing a mask for 14 days afterward.
In schools, the CDC recommends teachers, staff, students, and visitors all mask up indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.
Federal, state, local, territorial, or tribal laws, rules, and regulations are exceptions to this new guidance. For businesses, this means they are free to decide whether or not to impose and enforce a mask-wearing mandate on an individual basis.
When it comes to Covid-19 testing, it is officially no longer necessary for fully vaccinated individuals to be tested before certain international travel (although many countries will still require negative tests for some time).
Want to find out more about on-site COVID testing for your workforce? Get in touch to learn about our New England COVID workplace testing options here.
Despite the CDC’s updated guidance, most states have dropped their mask mandates for individuals who are fully vaccinated in public places.
However, Massachusetts — where the AllClear team is located — has published the CDC’s updated recommendations on its website, advising that even fully vaccinated individuals wear a mask indoors. This is especially true for immunocompromised people, and those at increased risk because of disease or age, or an underlying medical condition.
Despite this, having officially fully reopened as of May 29, Massachusetts has in theory dropped its mask mandate for vaccinated individuals in all locations, with the following exceptions:
- On public and private transport
- Inside public schools, collaboratives, and special education schools
- Inside healthcare facilities
- Inside congregate care facilities
- In emergency shelter programs
- In prisons, jails, and other correctional facilities
- During healthcare and day services
- For home healthcare workers
How Will the New CDC Guidelines Affect Your Business?
At the time of writing, businesses can decide for themselves whether or not to enforce a mask mandate. When it comes to returning to the workplace, all industries are advised to follow CDC guidance.
For large businesses like Walmart and Costco who dropped their mask mandates for fully vaccinated employees and customers earlier in May, the CDC’s updated guidance has meant another shift in regulations.
As of this week, large stores such as Walmart, Target, and Kohl’s, as well as fast food restaurant McDonalds, have reinstated mask mandates for store employees in areas with high levels of Covid-19 transmission.
On top of mask mandates, some companies are now enforcing mandatory vaccination mandates for all of their employees. Some notable businesses to apply this rule include Tyson Foods, Microsoft, Disney, Google, and Facebook. Others, including Uber and Lyft, are enforcing vaccines for whitecollar workers, but not for frontline workers.
However, for small to medium-sized businesses, where there is perhaps more at stake, deciding whether to enforce their own mask mandates and how to do this, hasn’t been quite so simple.
Given that the U.S. is not yet using vaccination passports, some businesses have been left struggling to work out which employees or customers (if they are public-facing) have been vaccinated, and which have not.
Regardless of the rules they choose to follow, getting back to the workplace in itself is a step in a positive direction for many businesses, with many feeling excited by a return to some form of normality, while ensuring they keep all employees safe by following all of the necessary precautions.
How Your Business Can Prepare to Lose Masks
If your business is in the process of letting its staff and customers go mask-free after over a year of wearing one, this can feel daunting.
If you’re not a customer-facing business, it’s easier for management to find out whether staff have been vaccinated or not.
Using AllClear’s HIPAA compliant Covid Management Platform, your company can ask employees to upload their vaccination records to the web app, allowing management to monitor the vaccination status of each employee.
However, if you’re a retail business with customers constantly entering and leaving the premises, it could be unrealistic to expect them to be carrying their vaccination records all the time. In this case, you’ll have to operate on a good faith basis.
And even if they’re already vaccinated, remember that some staff or customers might choose to voluntarily continue wearing their masks in the workplace. The updated CDC guidelines highlight that regardless of the levels of transmission in the area they’re in, it’s their choice and right to do so.
Therefore, it’s a good idea for businesses to put policies in place to ensure they don’t fall victim to discrimination.
For any members of staff who are not yet vaccinated or choose not to be, it’s wise for businesses to continue routine Covid-19 testing to prevent any virus outbreaks in the workplace.
And remember, if any member of staff begins to experience Covid-19 symptoms — regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not — they should take a Covid-19 test.
Are you looking for a rapid, accurate, and affordable COVID-19 testing service for your business? Contact us to find out more today.
How Your Business Can Prepare to Keep a Mask Mandate
If you decide it’s still too soon for your company to do away with facemasks, you’re entirely within your right to do so.
With levels of anxiety and uncertainty around Covid still high, and information about new variants constantly changing, it’s understandable that some people simply aren’t ready to flip a switch and go maskless.
So, if your business decides to keep the mask mandate, it’s a good idea to draw up a company policy clearly communicating your management’s reasons for this decision. This is a great way to increase transparency and therefore empathy among employees.
Clearly lay out what action will be taken for members of staff who don’t comply. It’s then important that you share this information with all employees.
When it comes to customers, enforcing a mask mandate becomes slightly trickier. Firstly, it’s important to make your mandate clearly visible from outside your business premises for members of the public.
It’s also a good idea to employ a security guard who can be on hand to remind customers to keep their masks on.
After adjusting our lives to accommodate the pandemic for over a year, changes to rules and regulations are bound to be unsettling for any business or workplace.
Regardless of whether your business chooses to enforce a mask mandate or not, the best thing you can do is be flexible, in order to get back on track as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that guidelines and rules can change on a dime as new data from emerging variants is published. Staying nimble and prepared is important!