On May 13, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated the masking guidelines. Many thought the new guidance was confusing - it’s actually not. The guidelines themselves are very simple. If you are fully vaccinated, meaning it has been two weeks since your second Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after your one dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, you no longer have to wear a mask inside or outside, unless required by law. To put it simply, the CDC is saying fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear a mask except for certain circumstances. There is no confusion there. But this is only guidance, not policy.
The confusion comes with the practicality of this guidance and how the general population and businesses will handle the change. Here in Connecticut, Governor Lamont has decided to suspend the mask requirements indoors and outdoors for fully vaccinated people, starting May 19, 2021. This has raised several questions. First, how do we know who is vaccinated and who is not? For the most part, people are expected to work on the honor system. If you are not vaccinated, you must be wearing a mask - it benefits you and others who are not vaccinated. The second question that has been raised is: can a business owner ask me if I am vaccinated? Doesn’t that violate HIPAA?
Yes, a business owner or employee can ask you about your vaccination status, and no, that does not violate HIPAA. First of all, business owners are well within their rights to establish policies to make their businesses safer, including requiring the wearing of masks by everyone, even if you are vaccinated. The new CDC guidance does not force a business owner to end masking, nor does the Governor’s latest masking order.
If a business owner decides to ask customers for their vaccination status, or even ask for proof, they can. You are under no obligation to answer or prove your vaccination status, but you will be treated as unvaccinated and will still be required to wear a mask. Next, HIPAA only applies to healthcare related businesses; thus, most business will not violate HIPAA by simply asking you for your vaccination status.
In the end, businesses and the vaccinated general population will now have the choice to mask or not to mask. Businesses are free to allow unvaccinated people to go maskless, or they are free to require masking for all customers. Finally, vaccinated people can still choose to wear a mask if they like. The mask has become part of our culture over the last fifteen months, and many may not be quite ready to sideline it just yet.
While the practical application of the CDC’s new masking guidance seems confusing, it is really all about choice. You can choose to get vaccinated and take the mask off. You can also choose to keep wearing the mask of you’d like. Businesses can choose to allow customers to go maskless or continue to require a mask. Notwithstanding, if you have not gotten the vaccine, you do not have a choice. The rule is that you must still mask up.
If you have questions about workplace masking polices, please give us a call. We can help you navigate through the confusion and uncertainty.