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Confusion Persists As Businesses Decide On Mask Or No-Mask Policies

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

States across the country are starting to lift indoor mask mandates for the fully vaccinated. And a lot of people are confused. Both businesses and customers are struggling with decisions about wearing masks. Michelle Jokisch Polo of member station WKAR in Lansing reports.

MICHELLE JOKISCH POLO, BYLINE: Since the beginning of the pandemic, Michigan has been at the center of the mask-wearing debate, one that intensified after hundreds of residents flooded Michigan's state Capitol protesting the governor's stay-at-home orders and mask mandates. Today, the decision to wear or not to wear a mask is seen here by many as a political statement. But it's one Michigan restaurant owner, Travis Stoliker (ph), is not interested in making.

TRAVIS STOLIKER: Even today we had individuals walking in without masks saying that, well, the CDC said I didn't need to wear a mask. And that puts us in the unfortunate position of being kind of the mask police.

JOKISCH POLO: Tim Westlund (ph) owns a grocery store in Lansing. He says the state's decision to lift the mask mandate puts him in a difficult position.

TIM WESTLUND: The last thing I want to do is refuse people a sale, to refuse a sale. We need to sell product. That's what we're in the business to do.

JOKISCH POLO: While state regulators are planning to update COVID-19 workplace regulations to be consistent with guidance from the CDC. Michigan businesses are still required to have employees wear masks regardless of their vaccination status. Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO Rich Studley is calling for a more consistent approach, one that would leave the decision up to businesses.

RICH STUDLEY: There are a lot of business owners, especially small-business owners, who are now, as a result of the miscommunication and confusion, completely confused. Are they supposed to be the mask police or the vaccine police or both? It's almost a paralyzing situation now.

JOKISCH POLO: Lansing resident Drew Petrowski (ph) is fully vaccinated. And while he welcomes the change in Michigan's mask mandate, he says it hasn't yet meant that he can take off his mask as freely as he would like.

DREW PETROWSKI: I just hate the idea that the decision that I make regarding my mask would let people think that they understand my political leanings. That just seems kind of shortsighted and, you know, judging a book by its cover.

JOKISCH POLO: Petrowski is not planning to wear a mask unless a business he frequents requires it. But west Michigan resident Alli Roman (ph) doesn't feel the same way.

ALLI ROMAN: Even though I am fully vaccinated, I might do curbside or pickup or delivery a little bit more often just so that I can avoid others who may or may not be vaccinated and without mask.

JOKISCH POLO: Daniel Kinderman teaches business at the University of Delaware, focusing on the impact businesses have on society. He says the way the guidelines are used in Michigan don't set businesses up for success.

DANIEL KINDERMAN: There are many unknowns. And we are sailing in uncharted waters. So I think, in general, it's good to have freedom to choose. But I'm not sure that the freedom that many businessowners have right now is just a blessing.

JOKISCH POLO: Stoliker and Westlund are among those who want more guidance on how to navigate those waters. For now, they will be forced to wait until July 1, when all COVID-19 mandates in the state are expected to be lifted for all Michiganders, regardless of vaccination status. For NPR News, I'm Michelle Jokisch Polo.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRAY FOR SOUND'S "THE CANYON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.