Hampton Roads Businesses Are Handling New Masking Guidelines Differently
- Written by Hannah Schuster
- Category: Local News
- Published: 21 May 2021
Nearly a year after first issuing a mask mandate in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam embraced new federal guidance that says fully vaccinated people do not need a mask in most settings.
Some businesses in Hampton Roads were quick to adopt the new policy for their own customers and staff. But others intend to keep mask requirements in place for now -- creating a patchwork of different rules from business to business.
“We’ve been [requiring masks] since we opened last year in May,” Morgan Chavis, owner of Lusso Salon in Portsmouth, told WHRV.
“We’ve been able to keep everyone safely at work without contracting COVID, so for me it feels like if it’s working, let’s stick with it,”
Over the course of the last year, Chavis said most customers have been receptive to all the safety protocols she put in place.
“For every customer that was upset, there were 50 that were happy,” she said.
But the sudden change in state-level rules has caused some confusion, according to Chavis, who said she’s heard from customers wondering why they still need masks.
“[The policy change] certainly does evoke questions, and it does not create a black and white situation for people to know what they’re supposed to do to remain safe.”
In large part, her decision to keep the mask mandate came down to the difficulty of verifying whether customers really are fully vaccinated.
The governor’s office said businesses can ask to see proof of vaccination, but the administration also ruled out the idea of creating a statewide vaccine passport system.
Business owners who spoke to WHRO said they are relying on the honor system, trusting unvaccinated customers to keep wearing their masks.
“This is the honor system so please HONOR it,” reads a Facebook post from AFK Books & Records in Virginia Beach.
John Brittell, the store’s owner, said he does worry customers could skirt the rules, but he trusts them to exercise personal responsibility.
All of his employees are vaccinated, and according to the CDC, should be well- protected against the virus, Brittell adds.
Victoria Goldsby, co-owner of Column 15 Coffee in Williamsburg, said the prevalence of vaccines in the community helped guide her team’s decision to adopt the new mask guidance for fully vaccinated people.
Staff working behind the bar at the coffee shop -- who handle food and drink -- will all wear masks.
“We’re still recovering and anything we can do to make our guests feel more comfortable, we want to do,” Goldsby said.
Large companies also weighed changes to their mask policies. Busch Gardens announced this week that fully vaccinated guests don’t need to wear masks, though all staff will still be required to wear one.
Major chains such as Target, CVS and Kroger lifted the mask mandate for fully vaccinated people. Kroger’s announcement came slightly later than the others -- the company faced pushback from the union representing its employees, including those in Hampton Roads.
About 60% of Virginia’s adult population is now at least partially vaccinated against the coronavirus, but even as these businesses ease their mask mandates, plenty of customers would prefer to hang onto the face coverings for now.
Cary Patrick is no longer mandating masks for vaccinated people at hardware store in Hampton, but he said nearly everyone -- “19 out of every 20” shoppers -- is still wearing one.
Brittell said at least 80% of shoppers at the bookstore have continued wearing masks over the last few days.
“At this point, it’s a change in habit. … It’s hard to imagine walking in some place without a mask on,” he said.
Other shoppers have been thrilled to announce they were vaccinated and eager to lose the mask.
“We’ve had some customers that have walked in and just proclaimed, ‘You’re the first place I’ve been without a mask, and I love it,’” Brittell said.