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Restaurants question how a partial mask mandate will work

May 14, 2021 GMT

Some Connecticut restauranteurs are questioning how they should handle the state’s plans to require indoor mask-wearing for only unvaccinated people beginning May 19, a sudden change from the state’s original plans to still continue the indoor mask-wearing rule for everyone.

Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, said Friday he’s heard from numerous owners who want more information about how the new rule will work in practice, with some voicing concern about being placed in the difficult position of determining whether customers are actually fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

Gov. Ned Lamont said Thursday the state would not be requiring people to prove whether they have been vaccinated, leaving it up to the businesses to decide whether they want to require documentation or not.

“I think every store, business, restaurant may have their own rules that way,” the Democrat said. “At this point, I think people are going to self-attest, hopefully to count on them to do the right thing.”

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Dolch said that plan does not sit well with some of his members.

“That puts a lot of worry on the restaurants. They’re like, ‘okay, now I have to deal with the honor system, hoping that that person that told me they’re totally vaccinated, walking around’ (is fully vaccinated),” said Dolch, who plans to survey his members to see how they plan to handle this latest change to Connecticut’s mask-wearing rules and whether they’d prefer the governor’s order to remain in place a little while longer.

“It can become challenging and difficult for a business, any business to say, ‘OK, now we’re going to follow this or we’re going to mandate this,’” he said.

Restaurant owners, he added, have also expressed concern about whether they have the right to ask their employees if they are fully vaccinated, given medical privacy laws.

Dolch said he and state Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner David Lehman, who spoke with about 200 restaurant association members Friday morning, plan to discuss the new rule between now and Wednesday and whether any changes should be made.

Andy Markowski, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, a group that represents the interests of Connecticut small businesses, including some restaurants, said his members welcome the news that restrictions are being lifted Wednesday. However, he said they want to know more about their responsibilities when it comes to the latest mask requirements.

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“Small business owners are concerned about enforcing regulations and restrictions, especially because, what they tell me is, there seems to be a lot of conflicting messaging and lagging guidance,” he said, noting how some businesses adhere to rules set by state, local and multiple federal agencies. “It’s a lot for them to digest.”

Currently, both vaccinated and unvaccinated people still must wear face masks indoors and outdoors in public, when 6-foot (2-meter) distancing is unavoidable. Beginning Wednesday, all remaining business restrictions are scheduled to end, such as curfews, capacity restrictions and social distancing requirements. The Department of Public Health is expected to issue safety recommendations for indoor and large events, such as concerts.

Up until Thursday, the state’s May 19 reopening plan required everyone to still wear face masks indoors in businesses and public places. But that suddenly changed after President Joe Biden announced the easing of mask requirements Thursday afternoon, shortly before Lamont’s regular COVID-19 news conference. New guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control now allows fully vaccinated individuals to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal laws, rules and regulations.

While various social distancing requirements for businesses are set to expire Wednesday in Connecticut, don’t expect to see acrylic barriers and limited seating to suddenly disappear. Dolch said many of his members plan to continue those safety measures as more people ease back into eating inside restaurants again.

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