ALERT: Masks OFF – What the CDC Updated Guidance Means for Your Business

On May 13, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced updated guidance pertaining to COVID-19 protocols, specifically now stating that wearing masks and physical distancing by those fully vaccinated is no longer necessary, inside or outside, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.

Since the 2:00 P.M. EDT announcement on Thursday we have been sent a wide range of questions about how employers should interpret the new guidelines and react.

Our initial advice and perspective are as follows:

  • When it comes to offices and the safety protocols we have all been asked to follow, our situations have not yet changed. Those guidelines are driven mostly by state government leaders, many of whom candidly were caught off guard by yesterday’s announcement. To that end we are advising that business leaders wait for more information from their state governments and possibly from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which we expect to see flowing in the coming days.
  • The absence of any so-called Vaccine Passports or similar, which would give employers a critical tool in determining who has been vaccinated and could go without masks vs. who has not and therefore should wear a mask, will likely result in an honor system approach to any employer’s plans to allow for a mask-free office. Alternatively, this gap may force employers to implement what could be challenging policies around vaccination verification as a requirement. We are recommending employers wait for (hopefully forthcoming) guidance on this front before acting.
  • The reaction by some business leaders yesterday was to accelerate plans to reopen their offices and restore “pre-COVID normal,” alerting employees to prepare to return to the office in the very near term. We are concerned that employers will move too quickly, and that the mere relaxing of mask requirements is being viewed as the only hurdle that was left to recall employees to the office. In fact, aside from what we have highlighted above, there will continue to be a high level of hesitancy by many to return in-person, at least right away.

Consider the following:

  • Many of the medical experts that we have been intently following in the media since COVID-19 arrived have been quoted in the past 24 hours as being shocked and concerned at the swift reversal by the CDC; these are comments your employees may be following and possibly embracing.
  • Risk tolerance after vaccination varies. Some are not seeing the CDC’s reversal as a reason to feel safe, even when masked, in an indoor setting or in close proximity to coworkers. The inability to vaccinate younger children leaves some employees concerned. Parents or caregivers asked to be present in an office where employees are unmasked, not socially distancing, and have not being asked to prove that they are fully vaccinated may cause some to hesitate.

Our advice today:

  • Move forward with plans to reopen in a thoughtful, considerate, and strategic fashion. That may translate to a slower and more contemplative approach than you were planning.
  • Watch the actions of the Federal (OSHA) and State governments to both help guide AND protect you. Employers acting in the wake of guidance and protections dictated by federal, state, and local government will benefit from the cover they provide, leaving them less exposed to backlash from their employees, customers and, in the worst cases, legal challenges.
  • Keep an eye on what we provide in terms of information, designed to help your business make decisions with all the information needed to do so thoughtfully, to mitigate liability and to protect the safety of you and your employees.

Once more information materializes from government leaders, expect more from us, including live webinars and reopening guides, designed to help you determine the best path for your firm.

Please reach out to OperationsInc for thought leadership and expert strategic guidance on this topic or any other post-COVID workplace concerns.