CAPITAL REGION — New York’s uniform policy of face masks to fight COVID-19 is being replaced by a patchwork of voluntary opt-in, voluntary opt-out and mandatory mask-up.
New York state on Monday followed federal guidance issued late last week and said starting Wednesday, anyone fully vaccinated against COVID need not wear a mask — with a laundry list of caveats:
- They must have been fully vaccinated at least 14 days earlier.
- Commercial establishments — retail stores, offices, gyms, hair salons, food services, etc. — can opt to require all customers to wear masks or let the vaccinated customers go maskless.
- Unvaccinated people still are required to wear masks in New York state but they’re on the honor system in most cases, not required to prove vaccination if they go maskless.
- Employers can have vaccinated employees mask or not mask as they like.
- Masking remains mandatory for everyone in grade schools, jails, prisons, nursing homes, healthcare settings, public transit and homeless shelters.
- And everywhere people meet indoors, masks are recommended if the vaccination status of one or more of those people is unknown.
In other words: Don’t bury those masks in a drawer just yet.
Commercial settings have been the scene of some tense moments over the past year, with the occasional shouting match or fistfight between customers and/or staff who believe strongly that masks should or shouldn’t be mandatory in a free society during a pandemic.
Many businesses are planning to let vaccinated customers go mask-free in New York starting Wednesday and to let their unvaccinated customers be self-policing.
Corporate chains with a presence in the Capital Region that are going to drop the mask requirement for vaccinated shoppers include CVS, Home Depot, Kohl’s, Starbucks, Target and Walmart.
Others, such as Dollar General, JCPenney, TJMaxx and Walgreens, are maintaining the mask mandate for now for everyone, vaccinated or not.
Here is a sampling from across the Capital Region:
- The Capital Region Chamber said it will be sharing the state and federal guidance on masks but has not developed any specific advice for its members on whether to require customers and employees to wear masks.
- The region’s largest shopping mall is a microcosm: Crossgates Mall said Tuesday that it is still encouraging but no longer requiring guests to wear a mask in the mall’s corridors starting Wednesday. However, the mall’s tenant merchants are free to set their own policies for those who walk into stores from the corridors, and require that everyone mask up.
- Stewart’s Shops is letting vaccinated customers go unmasked and trusting unvaccinated customers to mask up on their own. “We do anticipate some challenges ahead with that policy and implementation, but we do look forward to getting back to normal,” spokeswoman Erica Komoroske said. “There’s confusion,” she added, citing as an example the unvaccinated child of vaccinated parents who come into a store as a maskless family.
- Cap Com Federal Credit Union is letting vaccinated customers come into its branches without masks starting Wednesday.
- Vent Fitness is letting vaccinated members work out without masks.
- Rivers Casino, one of the largest public gathering places in Schenectady, is subject to additional levels of regulatory oversight and will remain under full masking mandate for employees and patrons until it gets specific clearance for unmasking.
- Price Chopper/Market 32 must conform to the specific masking rules in each of the six states where it operates supermarkets. As of Wednesday, it will recommend but not require that vaccinated customers wear masks in the New York stores, the same as in the other states that have adopted the federal guidelines. Employees, however, must all still wear face coverings. “Our diligence on this front has helped to keep our teammate infection rate low throughout the pandemic,” spokeswoman Mona Golub said. Any changes in state and federal guidance or in the trajectory of the pandemic may result in further revision, she added.
- The Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce said in a bulletin to members that challenges have already arisen, because New York is several days behind the federal guidance, and some patrons of Saratoga businesses have thought for the last few days that they no longer needed to mask up. Several business leaders surveyed say they will continue to require vaccinated employees to wear masks because that’s what some customers expect, and want to see. The chamber provided a poster that Saratoga County businesses could print out and display, telling customers they must wear a mask if not vaccinated.