Colorado businesses can still set mask rules, requiring proof of vaccination less clear

Coronavirus

DENVER (KDVR) — Coloradans who have received the COVID-19 vaccine can now travel most places in the state without wearing masks, but there are exceptions.

Businesses can set their own rules and still require masks and can deny service to anyone who doesn’t comply.

“If I walk into a grocery store and see a sign that says you must wear a mask, I ignore it and walk in,” said Rob Pryor, a Weld County resident who vows not to comply with mask rules set by businesses.

Pryor isn’t alone. FOX31 visited King Soopers and Target stores in Castle Rock and found dozens of people in the businesses without masks, despite posted signs requiring them.

“Businesses don’t want to police that,” said Christian Hardigree, the Dean of the School of Hospitality at Metropolitan State University in Denver.

Hardigree believes many businesses will try and walk a fine line so as not to disenfranchise customers, while also trying to provide a safe environment.

For example, she believes restaurants will offer more outdoor seating to customers concerned about a maskless environment, similar to the days of separate dining sections for smoking and non-smoking.

Hardigree also says she wouldn’t be surprised to see some retail and grocery stores offer special mask only shopping hours for customers who don’t feel comfortable shopping with people who are not wearing masks. She compares it to the special shopping hours that were offered to elderly and immune compromised shoppers early in the pandemic.

“We may see some restaurants or movie theaters or hotels actually have some kind of different check-in process for people who want to continue wearing masks,” she said.

While businesses can enforce their own mask rules, Hardigree says requiring proof of vaccination from customers will likely lead to lawsuits and court battles.

“It’s kind of a gray area and this will be the mold case of this decade,” she said.

The Colorado Restaurant Association has also raised some concerns about this new “Level Clear” saying the new mask guidance puts restaurants in a difficult position.

The Association released this statement in response to Level Clear:

“The May 13, 2021 updated mask guidelines from the CDC and Governor Polis’ announcement today that fully vaccinated Coloradans no longer need to wear masks in public indoor settings, in addition to Mayor Hancock’s announcement that Denver County is moving to Level Clear on Sunday, May 16, is cause for both optimism and confusion among Colorado’s restaurant community. Allowing restaurants to return to full capacity without social distancing is a big step in the right direction to begin recapturing the $3 billion in revenue that restaurants lost in 2020.”

“Yet questions about mask wearing abound: How are restaurants supposed to effectively and safely manage customers in the wake of this updated mask guidance? If a customer enters a restaurant in which the management has decided to maintain mask rules when customers are not seated, but the customer says that they are vaccinated and therefore do not need to wear a mask at any time, how are the restaurant staff to manage that situation? Do they ask for proof of vaccination, and if so, what qualifies as proof of vaccination in a restaurant setting?” 

“Given that, as of today, less than half of Denver’s population is fully immunized, this new mask guidance puts restaurants in a difficult position, expecting restaurant workers to manage their guests based on vaccination status. That is not the role of restaurant workers in our communities, and it adds yet another burden when restaurant operators are just beginning to get back on their feet after the worst year in living memory. This guidance may put restaurant workers at odds with their guests if restaurants choose to maintain safety practices that are more stringent than those outlined by the Governor and Mayor today. Other restaurants, in order to avoid confrontations with their guests, may opt to completely eliminate mask wearing inside their restaurants.” 

“We want to remind the public that restaurants are already uniquely qualified to keep people safe: This is one of the most highly regulated industries when it comes to safety. During the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants have gone above and beyond to protect their staff and guests. In addition to mandates like staff safety checks, enforcing mask and distancing requirements, and more frequent sanitizing, many have gone further and implemented reservations to facilitate contact tracing, moved to touchless menus and payment systems, initiated regular staff testing both in-restaurant and at-home, upgraded filtration systems, installed plexiglass barriers, and made hand sanitizer readily available throughout their restaurants.”

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