Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced on May 14 that, in accordance with CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated individuals don’t need to wear masks in most settings, indoors or outdoors. The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) announced on May 24 that fully vaccinated employees can now work without masks in the state of Michigan, but must comply with individual businesses’ mask regulations. With these relaxed mask mandates and vaccination requirements, Ann Arbor businesses are left to decide if and how they plan to operate in terms of COVID-19 safety protocol.
How are businesses adapting to the relaxed mandates?
AJ Davidson, president of State Street’s outdoor and clothing retailer Bivouac, said he is allowing vaccinated employees and customers to enter the store maskless if they choose to do so. Davidson said the store is still encouraging social distancing and requiring health screenings for employees. These health screenings include checking employees for any possible symptoms of COVID-19.
“We are not requiring employees to get vaccinated. But if they are not vaccinated, like I said, they must wear a mask in the store at all times,” Davidson said. “And, you know, I see proof of that. So, my employees have to show me a copy of their vaccination card. For customers, it’s in good faith, so we take their word for it.”
On the other hand, Salads UP, a health food restaurant located on E. Liberty Street, says they will be continuing with the same COVID-19 safety and health procedures that they have had in place since the beginning of the pandemic.
Owner Jared Hoffman said he isn’t too concerned about reopening and adjusting to new regulations because of the nature of Salads UP, which is primarily grab-and-go style. Hoffman said that due to the small amount of staff at Salads UP, vaccines have not yet been made mandatory for employees.
“Most of our customers just come in quickly and get their food, so we’ll likely just continue with our current sanitation and mask procedures,” Hoffman said. “We’re a little short-staffed right now, so all of our employees are vaccinated, but (requiring employees to be vaccinated) is something we will think about as we start to hire new employees.”
Phillis Engelbert, owner of the Detroit Street Filling Station and The Lunch Room – Bakery and Cafe, said the relaxed regulations aren’t going to change anything for her businesses, which just opened its outdoor dining just last week. Engelbert said that her staff will continue to follow basic COVID-19 safety protocols previously recommended before the CDC’s new guidance, such as remaining masked regardless of vaccination status, to ensure the safety of employees and patrons.
“I take my cues from staff and from our managers and everybody is very cautious about COVID,” Engelbert said. “At this point we have no plans to reopen our indoor dining — we’ll just have to wait and see on that. We opened our outdoor dining area, and we only decided to open that once everyone on our front of house staff had been fully immunized. My top priority is always the safety of our employees and our guests.”
Similarly, ShareTea, which opened its doors on State Street in the middle of the pandemic, is planning on continuing with its current procedures. Co-owner Yale Zhao said that all of their employees have been vaccinated for a while now, but they are playing it safe in terms of relaxing regulations.
“The whole country is doing better, so it’s great to see everything coming back to normal,” Zhao said. “We had a discussion and I think for now we will keep the same protocols that we’ve had. And certainly all of our employees will continue wearing masks, and we’ll still require customers to wear masks when they’re not seated or drinking their beverage.”
How have students’ behaviors changed after being vaccinated?
Business sophomore Caroline Millen said that she is not comfortable going to an establishment with relaxed masking policies and feels uncomfortable in general that mask policies are being relaxed statewide. Millen said she will try to avoid people who choose not to wear masks in public and avoid establishments that have relaxed COVID-19 regulations.
“As someone who has experienced adverse effects from COVID, I am very wary despite the fact that I’m vaccinated,” Millen said. “I have noticed people not wearing masks in businesses in Ann Arbor and my hometown, Highland Park, Illinois, and it makes me uncomfortable. But since regulations allow it, I just try to avoid them and stay six feet away.”
Alternatively, LSA sophomore Emily Feldman said that she is comfortable going inside unmasked and knows it is a big step towards going back to a more normal life. Feldman said she looked to CDC guidelines and current scientific data — which point overwhelmingly to the safety of most vaccinated individuals — when evaluating the risk of certain activities.
“I am planning on going to restaurants now that I am vaccinated and that most of the employees are vaccinated,” Feldman said. “I trust science and believe that since the CDC has declared attending indoor restaurants when vaccinated as a safe activity, there is little risk. I also recognize the importance of getting back to normal, and know that eating indoors is a critical step in the right direction.”
Daily Staff Reporters Emily Blumberg and Isabelle Regent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com