WASHINGTON: Eighteen states in the United States and some major-label businesses have announced plans as of Saturday to drop public mask mandates either immediately or in the weeks to come, but other states such as California, New York, and New Jersey are moving forward with caution.
Many Americans went maskless in public on Friday for the first time in months — a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxed its guidelines on face coverings for people who have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
The changes came as more than one-third of Americans are fully vaccinated, and the daily number of new cases slipped below 35,000, the lowest since September.
Mask or not Businesses, large and small, are also grappling with how to adapt to the CDC’s surprise guidance on Thursday that Americans who are vaccinated against Covid-19 can hang up their masks.
Some of the nation’s largest retailers said they have no immediate plans to change their policies and would continue requiring both customers and workers to wear masks on the premises, according to local media reports.
Other businesses said they are re-evaluating their protocols. Walt Disney World located in Orlando, Florida announced on Friday that masks and face coverings for guests would be “optional in outdoor common areas” at the resort starting on Saturday.
Grocery chain Trader Joe’s became the first prominent US retailer on Friday to drop its mask policies for vaccinated shoppers. Then came Walmart, the country’s No. 1 retailer, with more than 4,700 stores in the United States.
Walmart said in a memorandum to employees that as of Friday, vaccinated customers can shop without masks. Fully vaccinated employees will be able to work without masks as of May 18, although workers who have not been fully vaccinated will still need to wear masks.
The company said it is giving USD75 in bonuses to vaccinated workers as “a thank you for getting vaccinated,” but employees will need to provide proof of vaccination to get the money. “We will continue to request that non-vaccinated customers and members wear face coverings in our stores and clubs. We will update the signage in our facilities to reflect this,” the memorandum said. ‘Patchwork of rules’ “While progress against the pandemic is being made, Americans eager to enjoy spring weather are receiving mixed messages about masking,” national broadcaster CBS said in its report on Saturday.
“What the CDC released are just guidelines on mask wearing — leaving it up to states, stores, sports venues and the rest to decide if masks are required. What the United States is now seeing mirrors what we’ve seen throughout the pandemic: a patchwork of rules that vary from place to place,” it added.
Whatever the decision, one thing is clear: the CDC’s new guidelines specifically apply to vaccinated people. CDC director Rochelle Walensky said this week that people who are not vaccinated should not be taking off their masks. “Today is a great day for America,” United States President Joe Biden said during a Rose Garden address heralding the new guidance on Thursday, an event where he and his staff went without masks.
“If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask,” he said, summarizing the new guidance and encouraging more Americans to get the shot. “Get vaccinated — or wear a mask until you do.”