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New mask mandate could be a headache for Pennsylvania businesses

New guidance through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allows anyone fully vaccinated to forgo face coverings in public settings, which could prove difficult for small businesses currently enforcing mask mandates.

Alison Beam, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, announced Thursday that Pennsylvania’s mask order will be following the CDC’s guidance. When Pennsylvania’s vaccination numbers rise over 70%, the state plans to completely lift its masking order.

Spokespersons for the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association (PRLA) and the Pennsylvania branch of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) see the move as positive for the state’s businesses, but noted that it may put some businesses in a precarious position.

“It’s the culmination of 14 months of these restaurant operators doing everything they can to keep their guests and employees safe,” said Ben Fileccia, director of operations and strategy at PRLA.

Despite the order, it is up to each individual business to decide if it will continue to enforce mask wearing among staff and customers even if they are fully vaccinated. That could leave a grey area for business owners, as it’s unlikely that the managers of an establishment will go to every unmasked customer and ask if they are vaccinated, said Greg Moreland, Pennsylvania state director at NFIB.

“I think some businesses will continue the order until everyone is unmasked,” said Moreland. “Some businesses will move forward with the guidance and hope and pray for the best but hoping and praying for the best isn’t necessarily the best option.”

Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Company announced it will be follow the DOH and CDC guidelines and allow fully vaccinated guests to remove their face coverings at Hershey Park. Park visitors will be trusted to follow the guidance based on their vaccination status.

“It is important that we all continue to remain vigilant and work together to prioritize the health and safety of those around us,” said Quinn Bryner, director of public relations and strategy at Hershey Entertainment. “We appreciate our guests partnering with us in following all guidelines.”

Some of PRLA’s members have said they may continue to have their staff members wear masks if it makes guests feel more comfortable, but they will trust their guests to be honest with them, said Fileccia.

One concern that businesses may have about allowing customers to enter their stores maskless is liability.

Late last year, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed Republican-backed legislation that would have safeguarded businesses from COVID-19 related lawsuits. The possibility of being liable for someone tracing the illness back to their establishment could cause business owners to continue the mask order.

“There are concerns on the liability front,” said Moreland. “For these small businesses to feel comfortable to take the sign off the door, they want reassurance that they won’t be hit with some frivolous lawsuit that could put them out of business.”

Ioannis Pashakis
Ioannis Pashakis is the Central Penn Business Journal's assistant editor. Email him at [email protected].

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