The debate over mask-wearing began early in the coronavirus pandemic, and now that more people are vaccinated, the Covid-19 infection rate is on the decline and restrictions are being lifted across New York state, masks can come off — outdoors, at least.
Restrictions were lifted further on Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as the statewide vaccination rate reached 70 percent. Business owners, however, still have the right to mandate masks, which has led to some confusion. In Glen Cove, businesses are still requiring masks for those who are unvaccinated, in keeping with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, but for those who have had two shots, it’s not so clear.
Essential workers in restaurants, grocery stores and other retail businesses are still masking up across the city, for the most part, and customers are generally asked to keep their masks on, as the state Department of Health continues to urge people to wear them and socially distance when it’s unclear if everyone has been vaccinated.
Elsa Valle, co-owner of Chef Moris Café, on School Street, said that although she, her husband, Chef Moris Valle, and their staff are all fully vaccinated, masks stay on while they’re in the café, whether they’re preparing food or serving customers. For diners, however, Elsa said, face coverings are optional if they’re fully vaccinated.
“Our team is fully vaccinated,” she said, “but we don’t know about the customers, so it’s better to have that protection.”
Most customers still come in wearing masks, she said, and then ask whether they can take them off. According to Valle, diners are allowed to be mask-free while sitting and eating indoors, but if they are walking around the café, she requests that they wear them. Being vaccinated and having a less strict policy is a relief, she said, after she made sure to follow the rules and asked people to wear masks or leave the restaurant throughout the pandemic.
“It felt rude to do that,” she said. “Now I feel less stressed if a customer isn’t wearing a mask.”
At hair salons, where clients might spend an hour or more close to stylists, getting color treatments or styles in addition to cuts, wearing masks was essential throughout the pandemic. Both employees and customers are seeing relief on that front as well.
Stan Sommers, owner of Hair Above Salon on School Street, said that since all of the stylists have been vaccinated, they have changed their policy to allow fully vaccinated clients to remove their masks if they prefer.
“Our policy is one that makes the client feel most comfortable,” Sommers said. “If they’re not vaccinated, we ask them to keep the mask on, but if they have both their shots, they can take it off. We leave it up to the client.”
To make things easier, he said, stylists either wear their vaccination cards around their necks or keep them by their stations so customers can clearly see them. And in addition to taking temperatures and offering hand sanitizer when clients check in, he asks them if they are vaccinated. All are still entering the salon wearing masks, Sommers said, expecting to have to keep them on.
“Most are delighted to take it off during their appointments,” he said. “But if they want to keep it on, that’s fine. It’s important that everyone feels comfortable.”
Area supermarkets still request that customers wear masks, and most people are still willing to comply. “I still prefer to wear a mask, not just to keep myself safe, but to keep others safe as well,” Glen Cove resident Lahaina Teed said. “My father had Covid and he was in a coma for three months in the beginning of all this, so I take my safety and others’ safety very seriously. I took my vaccine, but I know there are some people who can’t, like my pregnant friends, or children. I’d rather be cautious. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable wearing it, that’s their choice. I can’t do much about that. All I can do is cover myself and hope for the best.”
Vincent Perizzi, of Glen Cove, said he had no problem following businesses’ rules, and would take his mask off when it was allowed. “I would prefer that all people follow the science — masks are not supposed to be of any use, yet this is what our country is allowing,” Perizzi said. “I’m a veteran, and I’ll do what my country says.”