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New CDC Mask Guidance: What It Means for Employers

Fully vaccinated people don't need to wear masks and social distance in most situations. What does it mean for employers?

On Thursday, the CDC announced some very welcome news: fully vaccinated Americans can now go most places without masks or social distancing.


The guidance has a few exceptions: healthcare facilities, on public transportation, prisons, homeless shelters, and in crowded hubs like airports and bus stations. In all other situations, the CDC now says we can remove our masks and stand closer than six feet apart if we’re fully vaccinated, meaning it’s been at least two weeks since our final dose of the vaccine. 


But, local regulations still matter.

While the CDC guidelines have changed, state and local regulations still take precedence. If your city, county or state still mandates masks or social distancing, ignoring those requirements is a no-go. In the past, we’ve seen varied state responses to CDC changes - some adopting right away, others dragging their feet or only adopting part of the CDC recommendation - so time will tell how each state will react to this new guidance. 


In this case, we expect many states to hop on board quickly, as most were already in the process of rolling back COVID safety precautions amid falling case counts and rising vaccination rates. County and city-level regulations are generally more varied, and they may take some time to weigh in. 


Regardless, this news could be a key motivation for those who are on the fence.

This is welcome news for many of us, but we’re particularly excited about how it might impact people who are still uncertain about getting vaccinated. The idea of being able to move about normally without masks or social distancing might be enough to sway some folks who are hesitant but not completely against vaccination. 


So, how do you tell vaccinated and unvaccinated apart?

One issue employers will face is knowing for certain whether guests and employees are actually fully vaccinated. Employees may need to provide proof of vaccination in order to be mask-less at work, but asking guests for proof of vaccination is still controversial (also logistically challenging and, in many places, not legal). Only about a third of the country is fully vaccinated right now, and while more continue to get their shots, it’s still true that most people in the U.S. aren’t fully vaccinated yet. The reality in most workplaces will be that many unvaccinated guests will be unmasked, and there’s no good way to tell who’s who. 


Most companies are not making major policy changes yet.

A quick poll of our clients shows that most aren’t making major policy changes yet. Instead, they’re waiting for states to weigh in and for a larger portion of their workforce to get vaccinated. But many are loosening their wording around masks for guests, moving from making them a requirement to a suggestion. 


That’s partially because guest sentiment remains unclear.

Another big question following this news: will guests and customers want to see employees without masks or will they be uncomfortable? There’s very little market research about how guests will feel when interacting with unmasked employees - but we expect it’ll vary and may require some strong messaging that any unmasked team members are fully vaccinated. 


Which is why vaccine tracking is more important than ever.

Knowing which of your employees are fully vaccinated will be even more crucial now that there are very different guidelines for those who are and those who aren’t. Plus, fully vaccinated employees don’t need to stay out of work if they’re exposed to someone sick with COVID - another huge benefit to knowing who’s protected. 


Our team of clinical professionals can help you determine who among your staff has been fully vaccinated and when. Employees can even upload their vaccine cards straight from their smartphones, taking the guesswork out of parsing out the unvaccinated from the partially vaccinated from the fully vaccinated.


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Disclaimer: This post is meant for general information and educational purposes only and does not constitute, and is not intended as, any form of medical, legal or regulatory advice or a recommendation or suggestion regarding the same.  No recipient of this information should act or refrain from acting on the basis of this information without first seeking legal advice from counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.