When COVID Restrictions Are Removed But You’re Not Ready

8 min read • Apr 02, 2021 • Joe Kukura

It’s spring, the weather is improving, and crowds are gathering in surprisingly large numbers as the COVID-19 vaccine is more widely administered.

But news of sneaky new COVID-19 variants and images of careless Spring Break revelers give reason to worry that this still may not all be over. Scenes of large crowds with casual mask-wearing have also popped up in large cities and smaller towns across America.

And it’s hard to blame these crowds. Many states have loosened restrictions on gatherings and indoor distancing—or even eliminated the mask mandate.

What if your state lifts restrictions in ways that your small business is not comfortable with? Remember, your business keeps its own rules. 

Chains like Target, Starbucks, CVS, and Kroger are keeping the mask mandates in place in their stores, even in states that are lifting restrictions, according to the Washington Post. Your business can apply whatever safety restrictions you choose, but understand that proactive safety measures may provoke some tough customers.

Here’s the latest on the new rolled-back COVID-19 safety precautions and what they mean if you do business in that state. 

Which States Have Lifted Mask Mandates 

According to NBC News, 15 states have lifted the mask mandate, and more are getting ready to, though several of those states still allow localities to keep mask restrictions in place. The Indianapolis Star reports Indiana is set to join that list on April 6, 2021, with Alabama and Utah to follow later this month. Here is a list of states that have lifted their mask mandates.

  • Arizona (Mandate lifted statewide)
  • Arkansas (Mandate lifted statewide)
  • Florida (Mandate lifted statewide)
  • Texas (Mandate lifted statewide)
  • Wyoming (Mandate lifted statewide)
  • Georgia (Mask mandates only in some localities)
  • Iowa (Mask mandates only in some localities)
  • Idaho (Mask mandates only in some localities)
  • Mississippi (Mask mandates only in some localities)
  • Montana (Mask mandates only in some localities)
  • Nebraska (Mask mandates only in some localities)
  • North Dakota (Mask mandates only in some localities)
  • Oklahoma (Mask mandates only in some localities)
  • South Carolina (Mask mandates only in some localities)
  • South Dakota (Mask mandates only in some localities)
  • Tennessee (Mask mandates only in some localities)
  • Alabama (Starting April 9, mask mandates can remain in localities)
  • Indiana (Starting April 6, mask mandates can remain in localities)
  • Utah (Starting April 10, mask mandates can remain in localities)

How To Enforce Mask-Wearing If Your State Doesn’t Require It

Your small business is still allowed to enforce a mask mandate within your store, even if your state has rescinded its mask mandate. And it could be a matter of dollars and cents, as customers may feel safer in your store if their fellow shoppers are wearing masks.

We have an extensive guide on how to enforce mask-wearing at your small business that’s certainly worth a read. But we’ll summarize a few of the highlights: 

  • Post Clear Signage: Signs right at your door and storefront level can make this expectation clear to your customers. Having some hand sanitizer at your entrance or on counters can sweeten the deal and win trust.
  • Set an Example: You and your employees need to wear masks property (with your noses covered too) if you want to expect customers to comply.
  • Train staff to handle conflicts. You may have customers who are angry with a mask requirement, particularly if state and local officials have given residents the green light to go maskless. The employment law Fisher Phillips recommends training your employees with certain calm phrases, like “Our policy is to require all visitors to wear a mask. Can I provide one to you?,” or “If you will not wear the mask per our policy, I have been instructed to contact my manager who will need to discuss this with you.” And in that case, do have a designated manager to discuss this situation with customers.

You can also offer customers alternatives on how they can still access your business through an online store or via delivery or curbside pickup.

Which States Are Lifting COVID-19 Restrictions

Some states are also ending their restrictions on gatherings and discontinuing any limits on capacities at indoor businesses like restaurants, gyms, or theaters. Per NBC News, here’s a list of states allowing larger gatherings and bigger capacities indoors:

  • Arizona: Now allowing full capacity indoors at “restaurants, gyms, theaters, water parks, bowling alleys, and bars providing dine-in services”
  • Arkansas: Has lifted most indoor limit capacities
  • Connecticut: Now allowing full capacity at restaurants and non-theater indoor recreation sites like churches, gyms, libraries, museums, offices, and retail stores
  • Indiana: State requirements on gatherings and capacities have been removed; these decisions are now up to local officials  

Your business is, of course, allowed to enforce any capacity limits you choose within the 4 walls of your brick-and-mortar location. But outside of those 4 walls, you cannot enforce any limits on capacities or gathering sizes.

Will States Allow Vaccine Privileges?

Fortunately, we’re seeing vaccine progress that would have been unthinkable even just at the beginning of this year. The country’s most populous state of California now says that everyone in that state over the age of 16 can get the COVID-19 vaccine starting April 15. The state of New York is now offering vaccinations to all residents 30 and older and 16-year-olds and up starting April 6. Texas and 5 other states are already offering the vaccine to everyone ages 16 and up. Many others are quickly following suit. 

In light of these amazing breakthroughs, there’s plenty of media speculation about so-called “vaccine passports” that would allow vaccinated people certain public gathering privileges that the unvaccinated can’t get. 

There is no official form of “vaccine passport” yet. But major sports teams have been eager to establish guidelines for hosting such gatherings, even with limited, vaccinated crowds.

The return of regular foot traffic would be a lifesaver for small businesses, even if it did involve smaller crowds at airports, arenas, amusement parks, and the other small businesses that depend on the crowds those venues draw.

The new COVID-19 vaccines are definitely a medical miracle that will save millions of lives. But we’re still in the early days of vaccine availability, and this pandemic is nowhere near over. Regardless of what your governor may be saying, small businesses still have tough decisions to make in terms of what is safest for their employees and their customers.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute business, legal, tax, or accounting advice. All information, content, and materials available in this post are for general informational purposes only. Readers of this post should contact their attorney, business advisor, or tax advisor to obtain advice with respect to any particular matter.

Joe Kukura

Joe Kukura is a San Francisco freelance writer whose work also appears in SF Weekly and SFist. He’s written financial advice for NerdWallet, tech industry analysis for the Daily Dot, sports content for NBC Bay Area, and good, old-fashioned clickbait for Thrillist.