Long Island business owners should expect confusion, consternation and a "rocky ride" beginning Wednesday as the state lifts many of its indoor mask mandates for fully vaccinated New Yorkers, industry and medical leaders told a Newsday panel.
Eric Alexander, founder of the Long Island Main Street Alliance and Dr. Chid Iloabachie, associate chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Long Island Jewish Valley Stream Hospital, answered questions Tuesday from Newsday readers about the next step in the region's recovery from the pandemic.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has said the state will adopt U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which say fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks, except in settings such as public transportation, schools, homeless shelters, correctional facilities and health care facilities. Private businesses are not required to accept the guidelines and can impose additional requirements.
That puts businesses in the position of being the "mask police or the vaccination checkers," Alexander said.
"Folks are really frustrated that they have to become the arbiters of these decisions," Alexander said during a Newsday Live panel moderated by Associate Editor Joye Brown and economics writer James T. Madore. "So literally every business owner and their staff are ambassadors for New York State policy."
Alexander recommends businesses adopt clear policies that are visible to their customers.
"If you're going to be a store that says 'masks or bust,' have that on the door," he said. "Have clear expectations. Have masks ready with you to give to a customer so they can patronize your store."
Iloabachie said vaccinated customers should feel comfortable that they have a high degree of protection against the virus and "almost perfect protection" against serious COVID illness.
But he concedes the new policy is "largely operating on the honor system. There's not a reliable way to tell if any given person has been vaccinated or not vaccinated or half-vaccinated … We need to trust people in our community and trust those around us."
Alexander said businesses must navigate a divided public that's made mask-wearing a political football and others who will use social media to "shame" patrons and operators.
"No business owner wants to lose parts of their customer base," he said. "They feel they are in the middle of this thing that they didn't sign up for."