States, business sort out what new CDC mask guidance means

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More than a dozen states quickly embraced new federal guidelines that say fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks indoors or out in most cases.

But other states and cities and some major businesses hesitated amid doubts about whether the approach is safe or even workable.

As many business owners pointed out, there is no easy way to determine who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t.

And the new guidelines, issued Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, essentially leave it up to people to do the right thing.

Labor groups and others warned that employees at stores, restaurants and other businesses could be left exposed to the coronavirus from customers and could be forced into the unwanted role of “vaccination police.”

Oregon’s state health officer says businesses will be asked to either enforce mask policies or check whether customers have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

The comments Friday by Dr. Dean Sidelinger came as he said the state was still working on releasing more detailed guidance for businesses.

Late Thursday Gov. Kate Brown said Oregon would immediately follow direction from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier in the day which eased indoor mask-wearing and social distancing for fully vaccinated people.

Brown said Oregonians who are fully-vaccinated no longer need to wear masks or social distance in most public spaces.

Sidelinger said for now it’s up to businesses to determine a person’s vaccine status.

“We anticipate an establishment or business will have a system in place for asking about vaccine status and verifying that,” he said, adding that it could be the card itself, a copy of the card or even picture of the card on your phone. “Because we need to know they’re vaccinated so that business knows that their employees and other customers are protected.”

Businesses are allowed to ask customers to show vaccination records, as it’s not a violation of the often misunderstood health privacy act known as HIPAA.

“HIPAA only governs certain kinds of entities – your clinician, hospital, or others in the health care sphere. It does not apply to the average person or to a business outside health care,” according to Kayte Spector-Bagdady, a Health law and medical ethics researcher at the Univ. of Michigan. “It doesn’t give someone personal protection against ever having to disclose their health information.”

Several major chains, including Home Depot and grocer Kroger Co., – including Fred Meyer stores in Oregon – announced that they would keep mask mandates in place for now.

Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Kentucky, Washington, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, North Carolina, Kansas and Rhode Island announced plans to fall in line with the guidance either immediately or in the coming weeks.

Brown said the new approach makes clear that vaccines are the fastest way to get back to doing the things “we all love.”

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear called the guidance a “game-changer.” And Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said the change is “a heck of a benefit.”

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