Starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, Michigan will no longer require people to wear a mask indoors or outdoors if they are fully vaccinated, according to the office of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
The change in the state’s face covering mandate, announced Friday, leaves local business owners in a quandary, with some fearful that the new policy could cause problems, while others are hopeful that it could help boost their bottom line.
The statement from Whitmer’s office follows an announcement a day earlier by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that fully vaccinated Americans do not have to wear masks or socially distance themselves outdoors and in most indoor spaces.
Some businesses are keeping the masks. Kroger announced Thursday that customers are required to wear masks in all of its stores, and the company is also offering $100 to employees who receive the vaccine. Other major retailers that will continue requiring masks include Starbucks, Target and CVS.
But others are letting go of the mask requirements, such as Trader Joe’s and Walmart. Local small businesses don’t want to “police” the mask mandate since customers are still required to be vaccinated to take part.
Here’s how business owners plan to manage now that the mask order has been lifted in most settings for people who are vaccinated.
Restaurants and retail are concerned
Tom Violante Jr. of Holiday Market in Royal Oak said he doesn’t want to be the vaccine police.
“I want to keep my employees and customers safe and will continue to do that,” Violante said. “I want people to know what to expect when they come in. They can expect to wear a mask and be safe.”
Right now, Violante said, everyone has been walking in with masks on. He will, for now, tell customers they need a mask to shop at the store or customers can have groceries delivered to them or shop during hours set aside for those who are compromised.
Matt Buskard, the owner of five metro Detroit Bobcat Bonnie’s gastropubs, is nervous about the new mask mandates.
“Here you have the CDC saying all over national news vaccinated people no longer have to wear a mask,” he said. “It makes me anxious because of all the mask fights we had prior.”
Buskard is also concerned about the timing because he says businesses were not given any information on requirements or enforcement.
“Just like the mask mandates, my staff now, apparently somehow, (must) police this or review documents that say whether people are vaccinated or not vaccinated. It’s another thing where if we took some time to communicate policy, to create policy and get that out, we would be fine.”
Buskard said it puts businesses such as his restaurants in a “crappy” spot. “Do we really need to throw our hospitality and retail friends under the bus again? Because we could really use the reprieve, if I am being honest.”
Buskard said he will talk to his staff about their comfort level as well.
“It takes us from where we want to be, which is to take care of people and make everybody happy, and puts us in the middle of a situation that we are not going to make everybody happy,” Buskard said.
Some entertainment spaces lifting mask order
Eric Gubert, the marketing director of Bloomfield Hills-based MJR Digital Cinemas, said lifting the mandate for people who are fully vaccinated should help bring people back to theaters.
“We’re just going to have to trust people,” he said. “There’s no way — obviously — we can verify that.”
MJR is a Michigan movie theater chain with 10 theaters in metro Detroit.
Gubert said the pandemic has been difficult for the movie business, but “as people get vaccinated, they are they are starting to come back to public spaces.”
Super Bowl bowling center in Canton will be following the governor’s orders and lifting the mask mandate to those who are fully vaccinated, but they will not monitor who is or is not vaccinated, said Doug Sewesky, general manager.
“We are not going to play the vaccination police,” Sewesky said. “We still plan on social distancing, we got a large facility here so people are not going to be on top of each other.”
Safety rules, including the removal of the mask mandate to those fully vaccinated, will be posted on the entryways to remind customers.
“If you’re not fully vaccinated, you must wear a mask. We’re hoping that people follow the guidelines set forth,” he said. “I’m probably still going to wear mine for now, and that’s courtesy to our guests, not knowing if I can still spread the disease even though I’ve been vaccinated.”
Salons waiting to make decision
Hillary Heacock, owner of Studio One Salon in Rochester, plans to require masks through the weekend in hopes of getting more guidance on what to do by next week. As a licensed professional, she is waiting for the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs to clarify the rules.
“We have customers who are compromised, so I want to provide the safest experience for them,” Heacock said. “Yet, I also know that there are a lot of my customers who are vaccinated. I just don’t know how we’re going to handle this at this point.”
Salon employees and clients are close to each other during services and Heacock said there’s no way to socially distance. She also wants to know how to navigate asking clients if they’ve been vaccinated when there are laws in place, like health information privacy.
“What I’m confused about is with the masking, then does that change our capacity limits as well?” said Heacock. “There’s not enough information.”
Paradise City Salon & Spa in Dearborn will allow only those who are vaccinated to not wear a mask at their facility, said owner Hanin Abu-Ali. Customers who would like to come into the salon without their masks must show their vaccination card.
“I don’t really know if someone is vaccinated or not otherwise, so they have to do their part,” Abu-Ali said.
If customers do not have a vaccination card, they must still wear a mask in the salon.
Gym sees positive in no masks during workouts
The Michigan Fitness Club Association chair Bryan Rief released a statement that its gyms have a 0% risk for getting COVID-19. The gyms will remain at 30% capacity, but Rief encourages people to embrace fitness after a year of lockdowns and isolation.
“We are pleased to see this step toward Michigan’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rief. “MFCA gyms have participated extensively in creating safe indoor exercise environments, adhering to strict cleaning and sanitizing guidelines, investing in superior HVAC systems and taking all other precautions to keep our staff and members safe as they pursue fitness goals.”
William McCray, 36, is the owner of Willpower Fitness Group, which is a gym located in Clawson. While other gym owners were reopening during the pandemic, he kept his doors closed until September and shifted to an online training model.
But McCray said working out has been hard for his clients when they’re wearing a mask. He said the mask mandate restricts people from reaching their fitness goals and there’s been a large percentage of people who haven’t returned to the gym during the pandemic.
“For my industry, it’s been extremely difficult to find that middle ground because exercising already exhausts you,” McCray said. “To try to exercise with a mask on is pretty much impossible. … That’s been the biggest thing to kind of get used to for people is learning how to exercise and breathe with the mask on.”
As of now, he hopes that when he asks his clients if they’ve been vaccinated, they will show him their card or tell them the truth.
“I’m going to go along with what the CDC came out with and what Gov. Whitmer said today,” McCray said. “That’s what I’ve done since day one.”