December 2, 2021

To mask, or not to mask?

Businesses rely on honor system for those without face coverings

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Kyle Howser adjusts clothes while working Thursday at Homer Men and Boys in Homer. New state and federal guidelines allow people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to go maskless, if stores permit it. Business owners say they are adjusting to the change and trusting people to be honest about their vaccination status.

Kyle Howser, an employee at Homer Men and Boys in Homer, picked up a stack of short-sleeve shirts Thursday and hung them on a rack.

There was nothing extraordinary about this, except that he, and the staff, all went about their work without masks.

Recent federal and state guidelines now allow for people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to go maskless in stores where permitted.

But for greater Cortland area businesses and organizations, that often means relying on the honor system for people’s vaccination status.

“We’re letting customers make a choice to wear a mask or not wear a mask,” said Rob Garrison, the manager of Homer Men and Boys.

Recent guidelines from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office have allowed for people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to go maskless in most settings.

For the time being, people will still be required to wear masks when inside:

  • Schools.
  • Public transportation.
  • Hospitals and other health care settings.
  • Nursing homes.
  • Homeless shelters.

Businesses can still require people to wear masks, the governor’s office announced.

“New Yorkers have worked hard over the last year to prevent the spread of COVID and keep each other safe,” Cuomo said.

“That work has paid off and we are ecstatic to take this next step in the reopening of our beautiful
state. The people of New York and visitors alike should take solace in the lifting of mask requirements, but be respectful of those who may still feel safest wearing their mask in public and business owners who may still ask patrons to don their mask.”

Less than half of the county’s population has been fully vaccinated as of Friday. About 39%
of Cortland County’s 47,823 residents have been fully vaccinated, according to state data.

There are 88 current positive cases of COVID-19 in the county and there have 4,478 total cases to date, according to Cortland County Health Department statistics Friday.

Four thousand three hundred twenty seven cases have recovered.

While this change has come into place, local businesses and organizations aren’t checking with customers who don’t wear a mask what their vaccination status is.

In Homer, Garrison said his store has followed the new guidelines and has taken down signs requiring masks.

Even when masks were required in the store during the pandemic, Garrison said he or his staff did not ask unmasked customers to leave, rather just give them space.

As the state change was enacted last week, some people are still getting adjusted to not having to wear masks again, he said.

“If someone wants to wear a mask and they have been vaccinated, then hey, I respect that,” he said.

Other COVID protocols, such as expanded cleaning, will still continue, Garrison said.

A bottle of hand sanitizer at the counter will still be available for customers and staff.

At the YMCA in Cortland, vaccinated members and guests aren’t required to wear masks though many do, said Margo Upson, the membership and marketing director.

Like Homer Men and Boys, the YMCA isn’t checking vaccination status with visitors, rather it’s on the honor system, she said.

While a good majority of members have publicly said they are vaccinated, Upson said some guests are concerned with the trustworthiness of other guests.

“Some people who are vaccinated are asking about the potential for some people who may not be as honest” with their vaccination status, she said.

Some members still wear masks as they may not be fully vaccinated and some continue to wear masks because they aren’t comfortable removing them yet, Upson continued.

“But as far as I know, everyone’s been honest about it,” she said.

People who aren’t fully vaccinated or who are immunocompromised are encouraged to still wear masks, Upson said. Additionally, staff members still wear masks.

Also like Homer Men and Boys, other COVID protocols will remain at the YMCA such as social distancing between equipment and additional cleaning.

Future changes may include providing spray bottles and clothes for each guest — something introduced during the pandemic — and, depending on case numbers, resuming indoor fitness classes and swim

“We’re taking very cautious steps forward right now,” Upson said