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Mask Mandate Muddle: CDC’s Sudden Order Leaves Many Office Users Uncertain

The CDC mask mandate last week appeared to get ahead of many back-to-office plans being implemented by employers.

When one of the United States' leading health organizations declared that vaccinated Americans could take off their masks last Thursday, many saw it as a milestone in the road toward normalcy. For office tenants, and cities clamoring for more foot traffic and economic activity in downtown business districts, it seemed like the order may still be a step on the road to recovery. But there has been some conflicting advice, which has fostered uncertainty. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s significant, and somewhat unexpected, guidance that vaccinated Americans could remove their masks outdoors or indoors, outside of specific exceptions, such as while riding public transportation, also left the future of mask mandates in the hands of private businesses and local governments. “This is not permission for widespread removal of masks,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Sunday on ABC, though many state governments, such as New York, have quickly altered their rules in response to the CDC.  

Office tenants, and their human resources staffers, still appear to be gauging what, if any, changes this announcement may have on their long-in-the-works plans to bring staff back to work. According to HR Dive, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has the final say over employer policy and has yet to weigh in on the CDC’s mandate. In addition, some experts say that employers should take a slow, gradual approach; existing OSHA guidance still requires office policy doesn’t differentiate between vaccinated and unvaccinated staff.