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Businesses left to shoulder burden of enforcing state’s relaxed mask rules

A sign indicates the customer limit at a coffee shop in Seattle. (MyNorthwest photo)

Washington state is relaxing its mask guidelines to fall in line with recommendations from the CDC, allowing anyone who’s been fully vaccinated to no longer be required to wear a face covering in most public places. But while the move has been widely praised as a necessary step toward reopening, there are concerns it could lead to businesses having to shoulder the burden of enforcing these new rules.

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As Streamline Tavern owner and former KIRO Nights host Mike Lewis points out, businesses will soon be stuck dealing with the fact that there are now different mask rules for people depending on their vaccination status.

Without the state mandating that anyone provide proof that they’ve been fully vaccinated, that leaves it up to private businesses to deal with the fallout.

“If you’re a big fan of the Walmart ‘masks interfere with my freedom’ confrontation videos, you’re going to get a chance to see more of those,” Lewis told KIRO Radio’s Gee & Ursula Show.

He points to the struggles a lot of front-line workers in the service industry have had in enforcing mask mandates over the last year, evidenced by the many documented incidents where tempers have boiled over.

Now, Lewis points to a new pressure point, where servers, grocery store employees, and more will be the ones who have to figure out how to enforce different mask rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated customers.

“We’re putting the people really not in a position of power of having to actually make that decision,” he said. “If somebody walks in and says, ‘hey, I’m vaccinated, you can’t prove that I’m not, and I’m refusing to wear a mask,’ well, then you’ve just got to roll with it.”

Washington to relax mask rules for fully vaccinated

That’s also not to say that he doesn’t believe the state should be moving forward with reopening. The larger ask from his and many other businesses is for consistency, whether it be continuing to require everyone to be fully masked, or doing away with the requirement entirely.

“I would say yes to both of those,” Lewis noted. “Universality is really what helps if you’re in a business.”

“If they said ‘no one wear a mask,’ fine, we’ll roll with that,” he continued. “If they said, ‘until we get to get 70% vaccinated rate, we’d still like for people to wear a mask,’ we’re good with that. The problem is when you create this sort of a weather system — when you create high and low pressure, you get all kinds of weird things happening from a business standpoint.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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