Massachusetts Relaxes Mask Mandates, Creates Tough Choice for Businesses
Since April 20 of 2020, we have been wearing masks here in Massachusetts. I'll never forget the first time I saw a woman wearing a mask in Stop & Shop. That's so weird, I thought in my head. It wasn't long before not wearing a mask became out of the ordinary.
Now, more than a year later, Governor Charlie Baker announced today that the mask mandates will be greatly relaxed as of May 29, 2021. With a few exceptions, masks will no longer be required to be worn either indoors or outdoors. Some of those restrictions are in places like schools, public transportation, and healthcare facilities.
The governor asked for patience for those who are not quite ready to ditch the mask.
"And that's OK," Baker said. "We should respect that people will be comfortable getting back to normal at their own pace."
He also mentioned that business owners will have the option of requiring masks for their employees and customers.
"Businesses will make decisions based on what's best for their workers and customers," Baker said.
Making masks an option inside businesses makes me wonder if this might have unintended consequences for them.
It reminds me a lot of a similar decision many SouthCoast restaurants had to make back in the 1990s. The Commonwealth was in the process of squashing smoking in the workplace, including restaurants and bars. Each restaurant owner had to declare whether or not they'd be a smoking restaurant or a non-smoking restaurant, effectively alienating a portion of their potential diners.
Could we see a similar dilemma developing for Massachusetts businesses? If Stop & Shop requires a mask, but Market Basket does not, how will that affect their respective businesses? There may be a certain segment at the population that might go out of their way to shop at a store that requires masks because it makes them feel safer. Many, however, may seek out stores and restaurants that don't require masks for their customers.
As businesses are still fighting to rebound from COVID-19, this could be a critical decision.