Restaurant patrons fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can now safely dine inside as well as outdoors without wearing a mask or maintaining six feet of distance from other parties, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decided Thursday.
The change will likely prompt more states, counties and cities to adjust their mask requirements, which typically follow the best practices recommended by the CDC. Michigan, for instance, announced less than 24 hours after the CDC's announcement that it would change its protocols for fully vaccinated residents. But local requirements are not automatically preempted by CDC guidelines, meaning the status quo will likely persist for restaurants for days or weeks.
Restaurants also have the leeway to set their own requirement that facemasks be worn.
With protocols and practices are in flux, the National Restaurant Association is sticking with its recommendations that operators require face masks and six feet of social distancing.
"Because restaurants welcome people who are both vaccinated and not fully vaccinated, operators will still need to work with their state and local regulators to ensure they are in line with all other mandates in place, " said Larry Lynch, the Association's SVP of science and industry, said in a statement. "For this reason, the Association won’t be immediately updating its COVID-19 Operating Guidance."
The CDC did not recommend a way for businesses or other hosts to verify that a customer has been fully vaccinated, meaning they received their last inoculation shot at least two weeks prior.
New York is encouraging the use of a phone app called the Excelsior Pass as a standard way of ensuring consumers have received their shots. The pass is already being used by sports arenas and other sites of large gatherings to limit attendance to the fully vaccinated.
San Diego, San Francisco and other cities are similarly requiring proof of vaccination to attend baseball games.
The update of the CDC’s guidelines marks another major step toward normal for the nation. A number of states, including Texas and Florida, have already dropped the requirement that face coverings be worn by residents while in public.
Utah dropped its mask requirement last week. Restaurants there were given the latitude of setting their own rules on wearing masks. Melva Stine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, told The Salt Lake Tribune that there was no across-the-board reaction from her members.
Rather, some dropped any mask requirements, others kept them in place, and still more informed customers that masks are recommended but not required.
Masks have been a flashpoint for some operators. Instances of customers refusing to wear masks despite the policies of a host establishment have led to violence. In other situations, customers have complained about fellow patrons or staff members not wearing masks as required.
Updated: This version of the story includes a comment from the CDC's action from the National Restaurant Association and the decision by Michigan to change its masking protocols for fully vaccinated residents.