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New mask guidance stirs up confusion for businesses

“The CDC surprised everyone yesterday and I don't think anyone was prepared for what happened and businesses haven't been told anything yet, so until we are, nothing has changed.”

Posted: May 14, 2021 7:35 PM

LANE COUNTY, Ore. -- The new guidelines for mask wearing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allow fully vaccinated people to go without wearing a mask in public. However, the state of Oregon has not released specific guidelines for businesses to follow at this time.

Many business owners KEZI spoke with Friday expressed confusion over the new rules, saying the announcement came as a shock to them.

“The CDC surprised everyone yesterday and I don't think anyone was prepared for what happened and businesses haven't been told anything yet, so until we are, nothing has changed,” said Terry White, the owner of Eugene True Value Hardware.

According to Lane County officials, all businesses are still required to follow local mask mandates for now, but that will be changing soon. In an email to multiple Lane County businesses, an official wrote:

“For now, the guidance and regulations still require that masks be worn in restaurant and other retail settings. The Oregon Health Authority will be providing updated guidance to allow the option of lifting mask and physical distancing requirements after verifying vaccination status. We will announce the new guidance when it becomes available.”

Melisa Nicol, who owns In Shape Athletic Club in Eugene, said she’s looking forward to allowing fully vaccinated customers to remove their masks while working out, but she’s unsure how she’ll be able to determine who is fully vaccinated.

“Getting into people's medical history, as you know, can be private, privileged information and trying to vet somebody out when they're just trying to come in for a workout feels very awkward for both the staff and the member, so I'm again looking for information and guidance to see how to go about that,” Nicol said.

Some business owners, like Michelle Reid who owns the Jazzy Ladies Cafe and Coffeehouse in Eugene, are concerned that some people aren’t understanding that the new guidelines haven’t taken effect for businesses yet. She’s asking people to be patient and treat her servers kindly when they enforce the mandate.

“A lot of people have been fantastic, but people who don't understand what the regulation is currently at any given time can sometimes be a little argumentative or rude,” Reid said.

During a press conference Friday morning, Oregon Health Authority’s Dr. Dean Sidelinger said one way businesses can verify customers have been fully vaccinated is by asking to see their vaccination cards before entering.

“Businesses should have a plan to either keep the current guidance in place, where they require physical distancing and masking for everyone, or implement a plan where they’re checking the vaccination status of those who come in and that those individuals can be allowed to be in the business without a mask and with less physical distancing,” Sidelinger said.

But there are some exceptions to the new guidelines. For example, on public transportation including bus stations and airports, the rule requiring masks will remain the same.

Pat Walsh with Lane Transit District said this includes when travelers are physically on the bus as well as when they’re just in the area.

“Even if you're standing at a station waiting for a bus you need to wear a mask and observe social distancing,” Walsh said. “That's true for everyone.”

Andrew Martz, the acting assistant airport director at the Eugene Airport, shared similar sentiments.

“From the time [travelers] enter airport property to the time they exit their destination airport, a mask is required to be worn at all times,” Martz said.

In addition to public transportation, places where people must still wear masks at all times include hospitals, long-term care facilities and correctional facilities, among others.

OHA and Oregon OSHA will release specific guidance for businesses to follow concerning mask and social distancing requirements in the near future.

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