Skagit County businesses look at next steps after change in mask guidelines

·4 min read

May 15—Skagit County businesses are reviewing their mask policies following an announcement Wednesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that fully vaccinated people can remove their facial coverings in most indoor and outdoor settings.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Thursday that the state would adopt the CDC's new guidance.

The abrupt change to the rules took some businesses by surprise.

In a Friday morning webinar co-hosted by Skagit County Public Health and the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County, multiple people stated they were unclear how the updated guidance would affect mask requirements at their businesses.

Businesses no longer need to require fully vaccinated customers or fully vaccinated employees to wear facial coverings, though they can if they want to, Mike Faulk, spokesperson for Inslee's office, confirmed in an email.

He said the state Department of Health and the state Department of Labor & Industries are working to release more specific guidelines for businesses.

The CDC's guidance applies to fully vaccinated people — those who are two weeks past their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines or one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The guidance does not apply to health care settings such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, or doctors offices; correctional facilities and homeless shelters; or schools, according to an article on Inslee's Medium page. Masks are still required on public transportation in accordance with federal guidelines.

Some businesses, such as the Skagit Valley Food Co-op, quickly changed their policies to reflect the new guidance.

The co-op will permit fully vaccinated patrons to shop without a mask, though will require those who are not fully vaccinated to continue wearing a mask and taking precautions, the co-op announced Friday.

Skagit Valley Co-op General Manager Tony White said the co-op is adhering to the CDC's guidelines, as it has done throughout the pandemic.

"I think what it comes down to ultimately right now is that people who want to have protection (from COVID-19) have an opportunity to be protected (by getting vaccinated)," he said.

The co-op will require employees who choose to go without masks to show proof of full vaccination.

White said the option to go without a mask will be a welcome change for some employees.

"There is a whole lot of happy people in the store and to see their faces and to not have to wear a mask eight hours in a kitchen," he said. "It's not a pleasant thing for a lot of people to endure all day."

White said the co-op does not plan to ask customers to show their COVID-19 vaccination cards for proof of vaccination, and that such a policy could lead to confrontations with employees.

As of Friday afternoon, it was unclear if the state will require businesses to verify that maskless customers are fully vaccinated.

Despite the new public health guidance, other Skagit County businesses will continue to require masks for all — for now.

In Anacortes, Watermark Book Co. co-owner Brandy Bowen said the bookstore is keeping its mask requirement to protect employees and customers.

"I just recently became eligible for vaccination and I'm not fully vaccinated," she said. "We sat down as a team and said, 'What makes us comfortable and safe?' We wanted to create an environment that's safe for us and the community."

She said the state's adoption of the new guidance feels premature with many not yet fully vaccinated, and there is a lack of information on how businesses should enforce the new rules.

"We said that is too complex; let's keep it simple," she said.

Bowen said the bookstore put up a sign Friday reminding customers of three requirements: wear a mask properly, sanitize your hands, and be kind.

The Riverside Lanes bowling alley in Mount Vernon will also continue to require masks for now, said general manager Chris VanEsch. He said a statewide coalition of bowling alleys decided that was the best option.

"Right now for a couple weeks we are going to take a back seat and see what develops with the governor's rules," he said. "We were in agreement that we didn't want to be the police of who is (vaccinated) and who is not."

He said the bowling alley — because it is a place where people may physically exert themselves and breath heavily — wanted to be extra cautious.

Large chain retailers are also reviewing their policies in response to the new mask guidance.

Costco and Walmart announced they will no longer require vaccinated customers to wear masks.

Kroger, the parent company of Fred Meyer, and Target will continue to require masks for all customers and employees, but plan to review their policies, according to news reports.

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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