Why The Mask Mandates For Indoor Dining May Be Officially Over

In 2020, COVID-19-related mask-wearing became the cultural norm and was dictated by government or community mandate (via JAMA Network). While it may have begun to feel that the days of dining and otherwise gathering socially mask-free were more or less doomed to the dustbin of faint recollection, it appears that such pessimism may actually have been unwarranted. According to a White House press briefing, based on "the latest CDC recommendations, most Americans in most of the country can now be mask free." 

Now, this does not mean it's time to trash your masks — because you still may be required to wear them in certain places and under certain circumstances, per the CDC's latest guidelines. In fact, some people may choose to do so even in the absence of a mandate. That's why you may still be seeing some people wearing them in public places. However, based on the most up-to-date COVID-19 information, it looks as if you may not see the facial coverings in the dining rooms of restaurants. It appears that the official mandates that have been applicable to indoor dining throughout the pandemic, like Starbucks' request that all customers wear masks, may be over in the vast majority of the U.S.

Indoor diners may be able to doff their masks

Indoor dining restricted by mask mandates presents unique quandaries for the restaurant industry (via Eater). On the one hand, masking doesn't exactly enhance the dining experience. On the other, masking mandates have helped make indoor dining possible during the pandemic. LIkewise, some restaurant workers have welcomed masking mandates but by no means has that sentiment been universal. Some restaurants have never wavered from requiring indoor diners to wear masks — even at various times when indoor dining masking mandates had been lifted. However, the CDC's most recent set of official masking guidelines, may, in effect, sound the death knell for indoor mask mandates altogether. 

In the latest official guidance, the CDC distinguishes between communities where the risk of COVID-19 is either low, medium, or high. In communities where the risk is high, masks are recommended in all indoor public spaces. In medium-risk communities, they are recommended for people at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness. In low-risk communities, all masking is optional except when someone has symptoms, a positive test, or a known exposure to someone with COVID-19. You can determine your community's risk using this tool provided by the CDC. Under this rubric, it appears that the official mandates may be off the table in favor of a more flexible approach based on actual community risk juxtaposed with one's individual risk.