EXPLAINER: Why are some businesses requiring masks still and others aren’t?

Updated: May. 19, 2021 at 12:11 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Whether to wear a mask or not is now in large part up to the individual.

The latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as state policy, say masks are not mandatory for people who are fully vaccinated in South Carolina.

People who receive the COVID-19 vaccine are considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after they receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two weeks after they receive the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

But no one is checking people’s vaccination status, which is worrying some businesses who fear potential lawsuits if a customer becomes ill.

Legal experts say the COVID-19 liability law Gov. Henry McMaster signed earlier this month essentially gives a business some legal cover, as long as it follows state and federal health guidelines.

But those guidelines are built on trust and are more expansive than when the bill was written.

“The immunity that the legislature has crafted -- would that apply in this case, and I can’t tell you one way or another,” University of South Carolina law professor Jacqueline Fox said.

To explain, Fox gives the example of a child who isn’t eligible for the vaccine and contracts coronavirus from a maskless and unvaccinated individual in a grocery store.

“The assumption of risk is a complicated legal analysis and I’m not sure at all it would apply to a child going into a public establishment during a public health emergency and getting an infectious disease. This is uncharted water,” Fox said

Children are just one example. Some immunocompromised people cannot get the vaccine, as well.

Fox said it is legal to ask employees if they are immunized and to ask patrons to wear a mask if they aren’t vaccinated, but how it is enforced and the controversy that may cause is hard to navigate.

General Counsel for the SC Chamber of Commerce, Mike Shetterly, said it’s even harder for businesses to decide whether to require everyone to wear a mask without guidance from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Shetterly hopes that guidance on mask-wearing will provide some insights on how businesses can fulfill their duty to provide a safe working environment.

“The question is whether an employer is exercising due care if they just take everyone’s word for it with the understand and knowledge that some people are going to cheat,” said Mike Shetterly, General Counsel for the SC Chamber of Commerce.

Some people who have been vaccinated or who say they are planning to be said they are still masking up in public businesses. But some unvaccinated people were going without masks.

Comet Bobbitt has been vaccinated and wears a mask.

“I’m going to continue to wear my mask until I’m totally convinced everyone has had their vaccine,” Bobbitt said.

Jessica Loudermilk does not wear masks.

“I haven’t worn a mask in over a year, I believe we can breathe air,” Loudermilk said.

Sterling Ta’Bara has been vaccinated and wears a mask indoors.

“I don’t know if you got vaccinated. We are doing the Boy Scout, ‘you trust me and I trust you’ thing,” she said.

One unvaccinated woman says she goes maskless because she considers them optional, as well.

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