Lack of mask mandate leaves businesses to set policies on their own

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Businesses in central Indiana have been forced to decide if they will require customers to wear masks after health officials released new guidance but no mandates. The response from the business community has varied — some are requiring masks, others are not and some feel they can’t enforce a mask requirement without a state or county mandate.

Because of the pervasiveness of the COVID-19 delta variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance July 27 recommending individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor areas of substantial or high transmission, which includes all of central Indiana, according to the CDC. Local health departments soon followed suit and issued new guidance echoing the CDC’s call to recommend masks. But because masks are not mandated, as they previously had been in Indiana, businesses now must choose whether to require masks or leave them up to personal choice.

Some businesses have chosen not to require masks. Curt Whitesell, owner of Greek’s Pizzeria at 231 Park St. in Westfield, said the restaurant has chosen not to have an independent policy regarding masks for either employees or guests.

“It was important to us to have as normal and comfortable an environment as possible for those that chose to work or dine with us and to implement an unnecessary or opinionated policy on either party seemed counterproductive,” Whitesell said. “For our guests, we always encourage them to dine with us when they feel comfortable, and if a mask is part of that process, they are more than welcome to practice that right. As for our employees, many of them are under the age of 18, so after the mask mandate was lifted, we asked them to discuss with their families their best individual practice.

“We will always follow what we are legally mandated, but beyond that it is an individual choice and we have had zero push back from either side.”

Kits & Kaboodle Classic Toys in Carmel required masks during the mandate, but the store now recommends customers wear masks. Store manager Keri Dorsey said the decision was made because Kits & Kaboodle is a children’s store, and children younger than 12 are not eligible for a vaccine.

Other businesses have chosen to require masks for all customers, regardless of vaccination status.

Angela Gapinski, owner of Root 31, at 226 Park St. in Westfield, and Remedy, at 203 Jersey St. in Westfield, said her businesses have “always followed the CDC’s recommendations, and we will continue to regarding masks.”

“We are thankful our entire staff is vaccinated; however, we care about our community’s well-being over our individual comforts,” Gapinski said. “Wearing a mask is an easy way to show our neighbors that we care and a simple way to protect the most vulnerable.”

Liz Esra, who co-owns Cobblestone in Zionsville, said her restaurant is following guidance from the Boone County Health Dept. but is not requiring masks.

“I honestly think for a lot of people it’s going to take a mandate for them to wear (masks) again because it was at times difficult to enforce them when the mandate was in effect,” Esra said.

The delta variant has caused an increase in cases in recent weeks, leading to a surge not seen since winter, when cases were highest. On Aug. 11, the Indiana State Dept. of Health reported a seven-day moving average of 1,833 cases, the highest average since Feb. 6. The ISDH reported a seven-day moving average of 196 on June 28.

Hospitalizations and test positivity rates also are rising, although deaths remain at record lows. Health officials say vaccinated residents account for an exceedingly low number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths and that vaccines provide the best form of protection against the disease. But some business owners believe conflicting views surrounding vaccinations have made it difficult for business owners and their employees to consider policing masks policies.

Zionsville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Allyson Gutwein said because of employee shortages, many businesses feel they are not capable of enforcing mask requirements.

“I think for many of our businesses, they would appreciate having a state or county mandate about masks,” Gutwein said. “If you are going into one restaurant or one business where it requires it and another doesn’t, it leaves a level of ambiguity, and it puts it up to that business owner. You already have a number of employees that are under a great deal of stress because they are already working more hours and doing more than what’s in their capacity than in the past. Having to police mask wearing on top of that is difficult.”


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