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Regional Interests

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

A sign on the front doors of Westlund's Apple Market in Lansing, Mich., asks customers to wear a mask unless they are vaccinated against COVID-19.
A sign on the front doors of Westlund's Apple Market in Lansing, Mich., asks customers to wear a mask unless they are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Michigan has been at the center of the mask-wearing debate, and it intensified after hundreds of residents flooded the Michigan State Capitol to protest the governor's stay-at-home orders and mask mandates.

Today the decision to wear or not wear a mask is seen in Michigan by many as a political statement. But it's one that Michigan restaurant owner Travis Stoliker is not interested in making.

"Even today, we had individuals walking in without masks, saying that the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] said I didn't need to wear a mask. And that puts us in the unfortunate position of being the mask police," he said.

Tim Westlund, owner of Westlund's Apple Market, a neighborhood grocery store in Lansing, said the state's decision to lift the mask mandate puts him in a difficult position.

"The last thing I want to do is refuse people and to refuse a sale. We need to sell product because that's what we're in the business of doing," he added.

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.

According to Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO Rich Studley, the state needs to allow businesses to decide what kind of regulations they want to implement.

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

Drew Petrowski, a Lansing resident, is fully vaccinated, and while he welcomes the change in Michigan's mask mandate, he said it hasn't yet meant that he can take off his mask as freely as he would like.

"I just hate the idea that the decision that I make regarding my mask would let people think that they understand my political leanings," he said.

Petrowski is not planning to wear a mask unless a business he frequents requires it. But west Michigan resident Alli Roman doesn't feel comfortable going into a business where she may encounter unmasked individuals.

"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 masks," she explained.

Daniel Kinderman, a business professor at the University of Delaware, whose research focuses on the impact that businesses have on society and the environment, said the guidelines used in Michigan don't set up businesses for success.

"There are many unknowns. And we are sailing in uncharted waters. So I think in general, it's good to have freedom to choose," he said. "But I'm not sure that the freedom that many business owners have right now is ... a blessing."

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 COVID-19 mandates in the state are expected to be lifted for all Michiganders regardless of vaccination status.

Copyright 2021 WKAR Public Media