Over the past couple months, several states — including ours, New York — announced rollbacks of their indoor mask mandates, and other Covid restrictions. But while coronavirus cases have dropped nationwide, not everyone agrees that it’s time to let down our guard.
When New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced her decision, she noted New York City and other cities still required masks in some indoor situations. That same day, Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control, responded “We are not there yet” when asked about changing mask guidance.
Dynamic, patchwork masking rules have challenged companies throughout the pandemic. But as even the strictest states announce the end of mask mandates, leaders are wondering whether it’s safe and, from a business standpoint, smart to end their own.
There are no easy answers. Whatever decision they make, leaders are likely to face pushback. But there are five questions they can ask to make an informed choice:
- What other mandates might apply?
Before making any change to your company’s mask policy, do your homework. What are the rules in your city and county?
- Is there a special need in my sector?
Just because you can drop your mask mandate doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Industries like healthcare and food service, where risks and exposures are greater, need to consider the consequences.
Do a risk analysis. James Hammitt, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s program director, offers a simple framework for assessing, managing, and communicating about risk with your company’s stakeholders.
- What’s my team’s take?
Speaking of risk, it’s important to ask: Are my team members comfortable with a mask-less workplace?
Expect to hear different opinions. Parents may be more concerned than non-parents. Team members without health insurance may be more cautious than those who could access care if they were to get sick.
Everyone wants to be heard. No matter your decision, how you make it matters as much as what you decide.
- Does customer feedback tell a clear story?
As is true of your employees, your customers are likely to have different opinions on your mask policy.
Don’t take any one voice too seriously. Use surveys to get a wide view of how people feel. If they are hesitant to speak up, put a comment box by your door.
What if you can’t get a clear story? Put together a focus group. Use gift cards to reward ten customers who’ll give you an hour of their time.
- Is there a middle ground?
Masks are not a black-and-white issue. There may be room to relax your rules without doing away with them altogether.
Say you run a counseling center. If space is tight in the waiting room, it might be best to ask patrons to mask up there. But you could let them go mask-less during sessions, if there’s enough room for two.
Think about where and when risks are greatest at your business. It’s OK to take context into account, as long as you’re upfront about the rules and fair in your enforcement.
Everyone is ready for the pandemic to be “over,” but mask mandates — including yours — exist for a reason. Reconsider with care, not just because your state’s governor said you could.
Want to help your uninsured workers feel safe during the de-masking? Reach out to learn whether they might qualify for Medicaid.