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Businesses weigh asking customers to put masks back on in light of new CDC guidelines. 'For most people, this is a huge step backward'

Lauren Zumbach, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

CHICAGO — At least one Chicago grocer didn’t wait for updated recommendations from health officials to require customers — vaccinated or not — to mask up again while shopping.

Green Grocer Chicago owner Dileep Gangolli brought back the store’s mask requirement about two weeks ago as COVID-19 cases began to rise. After looking at the area’s vaccination rate, Gangolli said he worried the risk of a customer or employee contracting the virus was too great.

“My fear was one of someone coming in not even knowing that they were infected,” he said.

New guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this week advising everyone to wear masks indoors in places where COVID-19 cases are rising quickly left businesses wondering whether they would soon be back in the position of asking customers to mask up.

Certain businesses never stopped requiring all customers wear masks or, like Gangolli, decided to bring back the tighter rules on their own. Others are waiting to see whether state or local officials bring back mask mandates before asking vaccinated customers who have grown accustomed to going out barefaced to put their masks back on.

“We had been wearing them for so long and we just got rid of them a few weeks ago,” said Susan Gardner, owner of Salon Envy in the city's Lincoln Park area. “It’s really hard to go back to something when you just gave it up.”

 

Earlier this week, Illinois said it would follow new CDC guidance saying everyone — even those who are fully vaccinated — should wear masks indoors in areas with “substantial” or “high” transmission of COVID-19. On Thursday, Cook County was added to the list of areas meeting the threshold where universal indoor masking is recommended, along with Will, DuPage and McHenry counties in the Chicago area.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a new mask requirement for everyone in state-run facilities but the state has not reinstituted broader mask requirements.

Gardner said she plans to wait for more guidance from the city before making any changes to the salon’s rules, which say masks are optional for fully vaccinated employees and customers.

On Friday, Walmart told store and distribution center employees they would need to begin wearing masks if they work in a county the CDC says is experiencing substantial or high transmission. Customers, however, are not required to wear masks, though Walmart said it’s strongly encouraged.

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