The other day, a woman walked up to the front entrance of a local store, mask in hand, and read the sign on the door.
It said something to the effect that despite the recent changes in state and CDC recommendations regarding the wearing of masks indoors, the store would still require all patrons — regardless of vaccination status — to continue to wear masks and social distance while inside.
To her credit, the woman didn’t make a fuss. She casually put on her mask before passing through the door, remarking to a fellow patron, “I never know what the rule is from one store to the next.”
That’s the problem with the new relaxed guidelines for wearing masks while half the country is still unvaccinated.
Some stores are keeping their mask mandates in place and some are not.
Some have changed their signs to say, “Masks recommended,” instead of, “Masks required,” hoping patrons will do the right thing and wear their masks, especially if they haven’t been vaccinated.
Few stores, if any, have someone standing guard demanding proof of vaccination or enforcing mask rules.
It’s a confusing and potentially unsafe situation precipitated by government officials trying to avoid public backlash over the politically unpopular restrictions.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who once exercised total control over business safety policy, has now decided to abdicate that responsibility.
In doing so, he’s unfairly placed the entire establishment and enforcement of health protocols on the shoulders of individual businesses and their employees.
These businesses are now in the untenable position of having to decide between the safety of employees and customers, and angering and losing customers.
The state needs to take back control and come up with a consistent, enforceable policy for indoor mask wearing, both to take the onus off businesses and to eliminate confusion among the public.
On Thursday, a coalition of 29 labor organizations, worker advocacy groups and citizens groups from around the state sent a letter to Cuomo calling on him to restore the state requirement for wearing masks in businesses and public indoor settings. Not outdoors. Just indoors.
As the coalition rightly points out, essential workers are still in danger of exposure from unvaccinated patrons and staff members, and masks and social distancing have been proven effective in helping stop the spread of the virus.
Despite what many think, and what we all wish for, the pandemic is far from over, many individuals are still are risk, and we are nowhere near out of the woods for a resurgence of the virus.
Restoring the state requirement for indoor mask wearing would provide consistency, fairness and safety for businesses, their employees and their customers.