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NY ends mask mandate for the vaccinated. Will businesses do the same?

Syracuse.com logo Syracuse.com 5/19/2021 Kevin Tampone, syracuse.com
Jalen Wilhite trims up Nate Reyes on the first day back open for Life on the Edge Barber Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday May 30, 2020. New mask rules take effect Wednesday in New York state. © Scott Schild | sschild@syracuse./Scott Schild | sschild@syracuse. Jalen Wilhite trims up Nate Reyes on the first day back open for Life on the Edge Barber Lounge, Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday May 30, 2020. New mask rules take effect Wednesday in New York state.

Syracuse, N.Y. — Let’s say you walk into a bar Wednesday evening without a mask. Will the bartender ask to see your vaccine card?

Questions like that are flying around now that New York state is following new CDC guidelines that do away with most requirements for mask wearing and social distancing among people who are protected by the Covid-19 vaccine.

a group of people looking at a phone: Turning Stone Resort Casino reopened on June 10, 2020. Employees and patrons must wear masks when they enter the building. Katrina Tulloch | ktulloch@syracuse.com © Katrina Tulloch/Katrina Tulloch | ktulloch@syrac Turning Stone Resort Casino reopened on June 10, 2020. Employees and patrons must wear masks when they enter the building. Katrina Tulloch | ktulloch@syracuse.com

New York’s new rules take effect Wednesday. They are designed both to free people who have vaccines and to reinvigorate the economy.

But for store owners, church leaders, stadium managers, restaurateurs, funeral directors and others — you name it — there are a lot of unanswered questions about how to implement the rules.

The biggest question they share: How do we figure out who is vaccinated and who is not?

Restaurants and other businesses, for example, are still required to keep customer groups at least 6 feet apart unless the customers are vaccinated. But who is going to ask them? A waiter? A store clerk?

“Do they have to ask somebody if they’re vaccinated? (Or) is it an honor system?’' asked Bud Loura, a restaurant industry consultant.

The onus appears to be on the business owner to check for vaccinations. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo also said state officials don’t plan to police the matter. That could lead to varying interpretations of the rules.

During a press conference Monday in New York City, Cuomo said some businesses may decide not to ask about vaccines at all.

“They can check. They can ask at the door. They can ask when you’re seated at the table. Or not,” he said. “There is no mandatory compliance that the state is imposing on the private vendors.”

The governor said he believes business will be motivated to confirm whether people are vaccinated because their customers will ask them to.

For individuals, the CDC guidance is fairly simple. If you are fully vaccinated, you can go most places without a mask, indoors or out, and not worry about staying 6 feet away from others.

There are exceptions. In New York, you still have to wear a mask at schools, nursing homes, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, health care facilities and on public transportation, including ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

If you are not vaccinated, keep wearing a mask when you’re within 6 feet of others.

What’s fuzzy is this: How does anyone know who is vaccinated and who is not?

Some states that were quicker than New York to follow the CDC guidance have left the decision about mask-wearing up to customers.

Loura said he recently returned from Myrtle Beach, S.C., where restaurants and bars allowed customers to decide for themselves whether to wear a mask. Most just posted a sign at the entrance informing customers they had the choice.

Loura said he has asked County Executive Ryan McMahon’s office for advice on signs that CNY restaurants could post at the door, so that employees don’t have to explain the rules to each customer.

McMahon said Monday he is still uncertain on many of the details about how to implement the new rules. He urged businesses to reach out to his office with questions.

“If we don’t have the answer, we’ll find it for you,” he said.

For now, many restaurants will likely require servers to continue wearing masks, whether they are vaccinated or not, to put customers at ease, Loura said.

The honor system?

The mask rule change covers retail stores, bars, restaurants, offices, gyms, fitness centers, amusement parks, family entertainment centers, spas, hair salons and barber shops, among other settings.

So will you see mostly maskless faces at stores and restaurants this weekend? Or will things look more or less as they have? It’s unclear.

Businesses are free to require all their customers to wear masks. It’s up to them whether they continue to require face coverings for everyone or follow the state’s lead and allow fully vaccinated people to go without.

Some stores have already said the policy will work largely on the honor system. They’ll simply ask customers to follow the rules and hope they do the right thing.

Multiple large chains that had been requiring masks are easing off. Starbucks is no longer requiring masks for fully vaccinated customers, although employees will still have to wear them.

Target and Walmart have both said they’ll no longer require masks for fully vaccinated employees or customers unless they’re required to by local or state-level rules. Neither store responded to questions about whether they’ll require shoppers to prove their vaccination status.

Walmart said it will ask employees if they’re vaccinated on a daily health assessment. If they answer yes, they can work without a mask. If they answer no, they’ll still have to wear one.

The company said it expects employees to be honest when answering the question.

Costco will also no longer require masks for fully vaccinated customers. The store won’t require proof of vaccination, but said it is asking for “responsible and respectful cooperation” with the new policy.

BJ’s won’t require masks for vaccinated employees or customers.

Wegmans and Tops both still require masks at the moment. Tops said it is reviewing its policies and Wegmans plans to make an announcement later in the week.

Price Chopper will no longer require masks for any customers at stores in states that have adopted the CDC guidance. Employees will still wear them.

The region’s largest mall, Destiny USA, hasn’t announced any changes to its mask policy yet.

Hotels are being advised to operate under the honor system. The American Hotel & Lodging Association today said hotels should allow vaccinated hotel guests to drop the masks, but that hotel workers and unvaccinated guests should continue to wear them. Proof of vaccines will not be required, the association said.

Funeral directors are still uncertain how to put the new rules into practice, said Michael Lanotte, executive director of the New York State Funeral Directors Association. Same goes for churches.

The Episcopal Diocese of Central New York plans to study the guidance this week, said Meredith Kadet Sanderson, chief of staff. The diocese has avoided any coronavirus spreader events thus far in the pandemic, she said, and likely will take a cautious approach to relaxing the current rules.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse also is reviewing how to respond to the new guidance. For now, church officials are maintaining their existing rules requiring masks and six-foot distancing for all.

The YMCA of Central New York is working on new mask policies and plans to announce them June 1, said Bertram Lawson, YMCA of Central New York CEO. For now, masks are still required at all of the group’s locations.

“We are not able to change our policies and procedures overnight,” Lawson said in a statement on Facebook. “We need to fully educate and communicate with our staff and members before making significant operational changes that will affect the health and safety of all people who use the YMCA.”

Elevate Fitness, a gym with locations in Liverpool and DeWitt, won’t require masks for people who are fully vaccinated starting Wednesday. The gym won’t require proof of vaccinations and will instead operate on the “honor system,” the business said in a statement on Facebook.

Separate seating for the vaccinated?

The new policy brings some updates for events as well.

For small events with up to 250 people indoors or 500 people outdoors, masks and social distancing will no longer be required if everyone is vaccinated. Proof of vaccination is required.

If everyone’s status is not known, social distancing between groups of attendees is still required. Unvaccinated people should wear masks in all cases, according to the state.

Those rules apply to smaller weddings, parties and other celebrations, but also smaller concerts and other live performances. Venues hosting small events will be able to require masks for all attendees at any event if they so choose.

At the Marriott Syracuse Downtown, masks are still required in common areas of the hotel like the lobby and hallways, but anyone holding an event can go without them in the property’s ballrooms and meeting rooms if everyone is vaccinated. The hotel requires proof of vaccinations for events where masks won’t be worn and already has a check-in system in place to collect the information.

Event business began return rapidly to the hotel as Covid restrictions began to ease, said Melissa Oliver, director of sales and marketing. The property is expecting to stay busy through the end of the year.

“People are so excited to be holding their events and doing these events again,” she said. “We are actually full steam ahead.”

Social distancing and masks are also not required for fully vaccinated people at big events with over 250 people indoors or over 500 people outdoors. That includes lager concerts, sporting events and performances, but also bigger weddings and parties.

Venues hosting those events can operate at 100% capacity with a crowd of fully vaccinated people or they can designate sections specifically for them. Those sections can be filled to capacity.

Venues have to get proof of attendees’ vaccination status to take advantage of the higher capacity rules.

Unvaccinated people or those whose vaccination status isn’t known must be spaced 6 feet apart in assigned sections at bigger events. Masks will be required at large indoor events for unvaccinated people, except when eating or drinking.

Unvaccinated people must still show proof of a recent negative Covid test when attending a bigger event indoors. The testing rule will be optional for outdoor events.

It’s not clear yet whether testing will be required at NBT Bank Stadium, where the Mets have home games all this week, after the new rules take effect. Patrons who have not been vaccinated will be tested for Covid-19 before today’s game, but county health officials have not said whether the testing will be required for future games, said Jason Smorol, general manager.

County Executive McMahon said his office is looking into that.

Unless state officials put out more precise instructions before the new rules take effect Wednesday, compliance seems to hinge on both businesses and customers observing the honor system. Funeral director Charles Garland said that could be “a little chaotic.’'

“They interpret it how they want to – like the Bible,’' Garland said. “They’re gonna read what they want. They’re gonna see what they want.”

MORE ON CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus in NY: Cases, maps, charts and resources

What Onondaga County’s top health officer will, and won’t, do under new mask rules

Onondaga County health commissioner on Covid vaccine hesitancy: ‘I get it’

8-month-old CNY infant is world’s youngest person to get 2 doses of Covid-19 vaccine

Complete coronavirus coverage on syracuse.com

Contact reporter Tim Knauss of syracuse.com/The Post-Standard: email | Twitter | 315-470-3023.

Contact Kevin Tampone anytime: Email | Twitter | Facebook | 315-282-8598

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