As COVID guidelines relax, businesses, workers remain concerned about health risks

·3 min read

Jun. 4—ANDERSON — The end of COVID-related mask rules for millions of workers across the country doesn't necessarily mean that concerns about potential health risks in some sectors are going away.

In response to new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, businesses are revisiting their mask policies and in many cases are choosing to end mask requirements for vaccinated customers and employees. But some unions are cautioning against a rush back to normalcy, noting that millions remain unvaccinated.

"With more than 200 million Americans still not fully vaccinated, now is not the time to let our guard down," said Marc Perrone, international president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents 1.3 million food and retail workers nationwide, including more than 17,000 Kroger employees in Indiana.

"We strongly urge retailers not to add to the confusion and to assure customers that the vast majority of people in their stores will still be masked."

In other industries, business owners and workers are taking a collaborative approach to moving forward under the updated guidelines, which say that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks or practice social distancing indoors. Locally, owners are maintaining an open dialogue with their workers on the topic, but in the end, they say, it boils down to acting with common sense.

"You try to be protective of everybody," said Seth Parker, owner of Nardco Heating and Air Conditioning in Anderson. "A lot of the workers, they don't ever want to wear a mask, but if that's the safest thing to do, well, then that's what we have to do. That's the biggest thing, just trying to make sure everybody's safe and everybody feels respected."

Parker said because his crews frequently do work in people's homes, the issue is also a matter of concern for customers, especially those who are older.

"If they're outside working on an AC (unit) on the side of the house, they don't have to have anything on," he said. "But if you walk into a house and the lady is 80 years old, throw it on and help her out. It's a lot of playing it by ear and making common-sense decisions."

Hair salons and barber shops were among those businesses subjected to the most rigorous COVID restrictions, and local stylists are being especially cautious even as they allow their employees to unmask.

"We do not want to be the cause of anybody catching this or spreading it in our community or even having an employee off work for this," said JB Shelton, owner of Detour Salon & Style in Anderson. "You do everything you can from hand washing to sanitation to protective gear, etc. But we are humans and we do breathe, and so therefore we're going to be passing things along. You just hope you can get it down to a manageable level."

Shelton added that in following developments from the CDC, she makes it a point to discuss masks and other COVID-related store policies with her staff of 20 stylists.

"We don't make any decisions alone," she said. "That means we come together and we make the decisions together based on data and what we're getting from the health department, what we see from the CDC, and then what we see moving about our community."

Shelton said feedback from customers has been positive.

"We haven't any cleanliness issues, sanitation issues, we haven't had any of our guests question us," she said. "They've all actually said they felt very safe at the salon and they can see that we follow the protocols according to the guidelines and then some."

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