As most of our readers likely know by now, on May 13, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that, “[i]f you are fully vaccinated, you can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic.” The CDC went on the state that “[f]ully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing.”

Quite understandably, this led many U.S. businesses to wonder whether their workforces are still required to wear a mask or physically distance in the workplace – particularly because the CDC’s guidance also provides that businesses still need to be abide by applicable state and local laws, rules, and regulations concerning mask wearing and physical distancing.

New York State employers, however, need wonder no more. Just a few hours ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that, beginning May 19, New York will adopt the CDC’s “Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People” for most business and public settings. To implement the CDC’s guidance, New York State will be revising the following business reopening guidelines to take effect on May 19:

Business mask rules

Given that the CDC has advised that fully vaccinated individuals do not need to wear masks, vaccinated individuals within the Empire State will not be required to wear a mask in most settings, including most workplaces. Unvaccinated individuals must still wear masks in all public settings. And where vaccination status of individuals is unknown, the State strongly recommends that masks be worn (at least in indoor settings). Finally, if businesses so choose, they will be permitted to continue to require masks in their establishments regardless of individual vaccination status.

These parameters will apply across commercial settings, including retail, food services, offices, gyms and fitness centers, amusement and family entertainment, hair salons, barber shops, and other personal care services, among other settings.

Business capacity rules

As Governor Cuomo announced earlier this month, most business capacities — which are currently based upon percentage of maximum occupancy — will be removed on May 19. Businesses will only be limited by the space available for patrons to maintain the required social distance of six feet.

However, given that the CDC has advised that fully vaccinated individuals do not need to maintain social distance, businesses may eliminate the six feet of required social distancing, and therefore increase capacity, if all patrons within the establishment – or a separate designated part of the establishment – present proof of full vaccination status. For areas where vaccination status of individuals is unknown and for patrons who do not present proof of full vaccination status, the required social distance of six feet still applies.

This change will apply across all commercial settings, except the exempt settings outlined by the CDC.

Industry reopening requirements

While most industry capacity restrictions will be lifted, industry-specific requirements will remain in effect for a longer period of time. This includes any State and local health authority event notification, health screening, contact information for tracing, enhanced air handling and building system standards, hand hygiene, and environmental cleaning and disinfection protocols.

Additional guidance

Additional details as to how today’s announcement modifies that State’s New York Forward reopening guidance will be available here. We expect additional guidance to be issued in the coming days.

If you have any questions about New York’s latest guidance, the Reed Smith Labor and Employment team is ready to speak with you.