Navigating CDC Mask Recommendations for Your Small Business

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While the situation across the U.S. is ever-changing with the new Delta variant becoming more widespread, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently updated its mask guidelines.  As of July 27th 2021, the CDC has updated its recommendations here on when to wear a mask indoors, in particular in areas with substantial or high levels of COVID-19 transmission.

The CDC has essentially recommended that, as a business owner, you will need to comply with state and local regulations. So, if you own a business and you’re unsure how to handle masks in your physical spaces, keep reading to learn:

  • The CDC’s general position on masks
  • Industry-specific mask recommendations
  • Insight into customer views on masked versus non-masked employees
  • Tips for creating effective mask signs and communication for businesses

General Mask Recommendations From the CDC

The CDC recommended mask policies fall into two general categories: guidelines for those who are fully vaccinated and guidelines for those who aren’t. We’ll focus on the fully vaccinated because anyone who isn’t vaccinated should still wear masks in indoor public places.

The recommendations for the fully vaccinated is summed up in this sentence from the CDC’s website: “Fully vaccinated people should also continue to wear a mask where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance”.

Recommended Mask Policies by Industry

The CDC makes some industry-specific recommendations regarding masks. If you own one of these businesses, take note.

Restaurants and Bars

Similar to the transportation and health care spaces, the CDC recommends that restaurant and bar employees wear masks. But while the CDC guidance for health care facilities discusses what providers and patients “should” do when it comes to wearing masks, the message to restaurant and bar owners is presented as “considerations.”

“Restaurants and bars can determine, in collaboration with state, local, territorial, or tribal health officials, whether and how to implement these considerations,” the guidance states.

It goes on to describe the varying levels of risk for coronavirus spread in different dining scenarios, with indoor seating with unlimited capacity and tables spaced less than 6 feet apart as the highest risk.

Hairdresser with security measures for Covid-19, cutting hair of woman with medical mask at beauty salon

Retail

Alongside the restaurant and hospitality industry, many retail stores are also updating their mask policies based on CDC recommendations to wear masks indoors in areas with substantial or high levels of transmission.

Some high-profile retailers like Apple and Walmart have updated their policies, with Apple now requiring employees and customers to wear masks indoors in more than half of its stores in the U.S.

“Retailers will continue to follow the guidance of the CDC” the National Retail Federation has said in a statement. For retail stores, it is recommended that they follow their local and state rules.

Beauty Salons and Barbershops

Operating a beauty salon or barbershop involves close contact between the stylist and patron in which the coronavirus can be easily transmitted. The CDC suggests that beauty salon and barbershop owners consider requiring employers, customers, and visitors to wear masks “as appropriate.” However, the agency’s most recent update to the recommendations for this industry was in November 2020.

The CDC does advise beauty salon and barbershop owners to follow any recommendations given by their State Board of Cosmetology. This board will likely have the most applicable and updated advice regarding workplace and customer safety for your business.

Trucking Companies

While trucking is mainly a solitary profession, drivers can still be exposed to the coronavirus on the job. A driver can become exposed while unloading freight or getting fuel, the CDC notes. Specific ways they can contract the coronavirus include:

  • Close contact with truck stop attendants, store workers, dockworkers, and other truck drivers
  • Team driving or “ride-along” long-haul trips
  • Handling frequently touched surfaces and equipment (such as door handles and loading dock surfaces)

Because of these possible exposures, the CDC recommends that trucking companies consider requiring their drivers to wear masks “as appropriate.” However, the agency notes that drivers shouldn’t wear masks if they interfere with driving or vision or if they contribute to heat-related illnesses.

Customer Views About Employees Wearing Masks

For the most part, it’s up to you to consider the CDC recommendations and make your own decision about whether to require masks in your space (as long as you comply with state and local rules). But beyond government guidelines and regulations, you should also consider what your customers think.

For example, in the restaurant industry, a study cited in Restaurant Dive found that 65% of consumers regard masks, gloves and other safety gear for restaurant employees as “absolutely required” for them to feel comfortable dining at that establishment.

While some customers have gotten media attention for protesting the requirement that they wear masks, many customers view staff wearing masks as a welcome safety signal.

Mask Signs for Businesses

Whatever policy you choose for your business, clearly inform your employees and customers. Here are a few best practices for creating effective signage:

  • Post notifications about your mask policy on your website, social media and at every entrance of your building. Even if you don’t require masks, a notice that directly says so avoids confusion.
  • Make sure any physical signs you post are understandable and accessible for people with disabilities.
  • If your customer base or community has a significant number of non-English speakers, consider signs in additional languages.
  • Choose wording, typography and colors that convey a friendly tone, suggests the design firm Gensler.

Remain Flexible

The CDC recommended mask protocols are still evolving. They might change again next week or next month. We’re in an ever-changing landscape, so you’ll need to remain flexible. No matter what comes next, it’s essential to have clear policies so your employees and customers know what’s expected of them when they walk into your business.

Reach out to other business owners if you need support. Along with the CDC, other helpful resources for developing your mask protocols can include state regulatory agencies, professional associations and trade groups within your industry. We’re all in this together — and we’ll figure out the best (and safest!) way forward one step at a time.

Check The Bottom Line blog by National Funding for insights on how to keep your business operating as safely and smoothly as possible.

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