More states are rolling back COVID-19 emergency orders and fully reopening, allowing restaurants to run in a way that resembles a pre-covid era.
Across the nation, states are lifting coronavirus restrictions for businesses and social gatherings – creating light at the end of the tunnel for actually reaching the end of this pandemic. As 65% of U.S. adults have already received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and the Biden administration continues to push for 70% by the fourth of July — things have started to move fast. However, as we’ve experienced throughout this pandemic, government guidance can be a bit convoluted, to say the least. So it’s pertinent to do your homework and stay updated with your own state and local government as you move forward in relaxing coronavirus precautions in your restaurant.
As of last week, most states have fully reopened and pulled back on most coronavirus restrictions. Those that haven’t do have goals on vaccination rates and low case numbers that are likely to be reached within the next month. But, “reopening” doesn’t necessarily mean a free-for-all there are still some COVID-19 protocols in place that vary from state to state. For instance, California just celebrated its reopening last week, allowing restaurants and bars to remove capacity and social distancing measures. However, California still requires unvaccinated individuals to wear masks indoors. In addition, proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test is required to attend large mega-events of 5,000 people indoors or 10,000 people outdoors, and those who are not vaccinated must wear a mask. According to California’s site covering the coronavirus pandemic, “Everyday life will feel a lot like before COVID-19. But reopening safely means continuing vaccinations and protecting the health and well-being of Californians.”
Like California, New York recently reopened, lifting coronavirus restrictions on businesses allowing restaurants and bars to open at total capacity and removing social distancing measures. Unvaccinated people are responsible for wearing masks as per the CDC’s guidance. Most COVID-19 restrictions also remain for mega-events, but vaccinated individuals don’t need to follow social distancing and mask regulations. Anyone who is not vaccinated must provide evidence of a recent negative COVID-19 test to attend mega-events — and then wear a mask and follow social distancing measures. In both California and New York — businesses have the right to keep mask mandates and social distancing measures in effect for the safety of their staff and others — regardless of the state’s reopening.
Then there are states like Texas, or Arizona, that have been open for a few months. In March 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbot issued an executive order lifting the mask mandate and allowing most businesses to open at 100% capacity. While Texans aren’t legally required to wear a mask, citizens are still encouraged to take precautionary measures in spaces where social distancing isn’t possible — and businesses may choose to require it. Similarly, On March 25, 2021, Arizona’s Governor Doug Ducey lifted the mask mandate and any COVID-19 related restrictions on some businesses, including food and drink establishments.
While both Texas and Arizona’s governors issued executive orders that lifted COVID-19 preventive measures for everyone — the legislation reads that individuals are responsible and encouraged to do the right thing, a.k.a wear a mask if you’re unvaccinated, get tested, and stay home if you’re sick. In a press release, Gov. Abbot declared, “With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny,” placing sole responsibility of using precautionary measures on individuals.
In all cases, businesses reserve the right to require their employees and patrons to wear masks. Even as more and more states lift COVID-19 emergency measures and life feels oddly normal, it’s important to remember that you should do what feels suitable for you and your employees. Continue to encourage employees to be safe, stay home if they feel sick, and do what makes them feel most comfortable while working a public-facing job. Now is the time to think about whether you will remove all COVID-19 precautions or keep all of them! No matter what, make sure to have a conversation with your employees and create a plan for how to proceed with customers who don’t adhere to your policies.
Lastly, check in with how your state government is handling reopening. If we’ve learned anything throughout this pandemic — rules and regulations can get confusing, and not every state that has reopened has done so the same way.