How New York And Illinois Are Addressing Changes In CDC Guidance – Coronavirus (COVID-19)

How New York And Illinois Are Addressing Changes In CDC Guidance – Coronavirus (COVID-19)


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As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues into summer, states
are beginning to ease their coronavirus-related restrictions in
favor of new, more flexible guidelines for vaccinated individuals.
In a sampling of the similarities and differences in guidance, this
alert covers recent changes in New York and Illinois.

New York Relaxes Various Restrictions

On May 19, New York joined several other states in removing a
number of restrictions in light of its vaccination success. We
address below notable changes to COVID-19 mandates of which New
York businesses and employers should be aware.

Masks Are Optional

New York removed the face covering requirements for fully
vaccinated patrons and employees in most public and business
settings. In order to ascertain vaccination status, businesses may
require proof of vaccine (via vaccination card or a
“passport” that New York offers) or rely on an honor
system of “self-reporting.” However, unvaccinated
individuals are required to continue wearing masks, and both the
state and CDC continue to recommend masks for those who choose not
to disclose their vaccination status. Any employer requesting proof
of vaccination status of its employees should note that this will
not be considered a medical inquiry (although physical copies of
proof of vaccination should be kept confidential).

Social Distancing is Optional

After more than a year of strict capacity limits and social
distancing, businesses will enjoy much more flexibility in this
area as well. Under the new guidance, most capacity limits are
lifted so long as social distancing remains practicable. In
alignment with the mask guidance, social distancing is no longer
required for fully vaccinated individuals who self-report or
present proof of vaccination, but social distancing requirements
remain in place for unvaccinated individuals and those whose
vaccination status is undisclosed or unknown.

Employment Considerations

Employers may require proof of vaccination for employees before
permitting a return to in-person work. However, employers should be
aware that they must separately evaluate and reasonably accommodate
individuals who remain unvaccinated due to medical reasons or
sincerely held religious beliefs. Employees who remain unvaccinated
for these reasons are protected under state and federal
anti-discrimination laws and employers should include them in
existing anti-harassment and discrimination policies. Note that
employers are not required to accommodate individuals who remain
unvaccinated by choice. It is undetermined how many employers will
actually mandate vaccinations or require proof as a condition of
continued employment.

Large Venues and Entertainment Arenas

For businesses that hold gatherings above the state’s
social gathering limits, such as event and sports venues,
performing arts and entertainment facilities, and conventions,
proof of vaccination will be required in order to lift pre-existing
requirements. Masks and physical distance are optional for fully
vaccinated individuals who supply proof of vaccination. The honor
system of vaccination status does not apply to these venues, and a
vaccine card or passport will need to be shown upon entry. Venues
may institute “vaccinated” sections for patrons who can
present proof of vaccination. Notably, 100% operating capacity is
permitted if all attendees are vaccinated.

As with guidance for other businesses, unvaccinated individuals
and those with an unknown vaccination status must maintain social
distancing and wear masks indoors. Masks are optional outdoors for
these individuals when seated and physically distanced.

Continued Hygienic Procedures

Despite the loosened requirements, businesses should maintain
current hygienic standards such as hand sanitizing stations, masks,
and COVID-19 signage in the workplace. Notably, the loosened
requirements do not apply to public transit, homeless shelters,
correctional facilities, healthcare settings, nursing homes, and
school setting prior to pre-K.

Illinois and Chicago Revise Mask, Distancing Rules For
Vaccinated Individuals

Both the State of Illinois and City of Chicago recently lifted
their respective mask mandates in line with the latest guidance
from the CDC. On May 17, 2021, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed
Executive Order 2021-10, declaring that fully vaccinated
individuals are no longer required to wear a face covering in most
settings. One day later, the Chicago Public Health Department
(CPHD) amended its COVID-19 “Bridge Phase” Order
2020-09 to align with the updated State order for fully vaccinated
persons. Both the State and City orders define “fully
vaccinated” as an individual who is two weeks past their
second dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series or two weeks past
a single-dose vaccine.

Face Covering Regulations

Fully vaccinated people are no longer required to wear a mask in
any setting, except where required by federal, state, local,
tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including
local business and workplace guidance. However, these individuals
must continue to wear face coverings consistent with CDC guidance,
including in healthcare settings, schools, correctional/congregate
care settings, on public transportation, and in City of Chicago

Occupancy and Social Distancing

The updated guidance establishes new capacity limits for
businesses, expanding the gathering size for various settings and
activities that were either not permitted or allowed previously.
Capacity restrictions under the new protocols by setting

  • Restaurants and Bars.  All businesses
    that offer food or beverages for on-premises consumption are still
    required to space tables six feet apart, but the capacity limit has
    been increased to 75%. For standing areas, the State restricts
    indoor capacity to 30% and outdoor at 50%. The City, however, does
    not differentiate between indoor and outdoor standing room,
    limiting all standing room capacity to 25%. Both the State and City
    can increase table or party size above the previous limit of 10 if
    all patrons age 16+ at that table or within that party are fully

  • Fitness and Exercise Facilities.  Fitness
    and exercise gyms can now operate at a maximum of 60% capacity.
    Indoor group fitness classes are capped at 50 people, while outdoor
    group fitness classes can have a maximum of 100. 

  • Office Buildings.  Office buildings can
    now have 60% capacity. Along with other continued safety
    requirements, employers in office buildings must ensure all
    employees who are not fully vaccinated practice social distancing
    and must take appropriate additional public health precautions in
    accordance with guidance issued by the Illinois Department of
    Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO). 

  • Retail Stores. Retailers and
    merchandisers, such as grocery stores, hardware stores, clothing
    stores, pharmacies, and department stores, are limited to 60%

Regardless of the setting, Illinois businesses that choose to
take advantage of the new mandates to increase capacity are
required to verify that patrons are fully vaccinated. While there
is no uniform proof of vaccine, businesses may develop methods to
evaluate authenticity of the vaccination verification provided to
them. It is recommended that businesses communicate in advance with
all individuals who will enter the premises about any vaccination
status requirements. Moreover, an employers’ general duty to
maintain a safe workplace continues to apply and should be
considered before implementing any changes to customer mask

Employment Considerations

Under the new changes, employers throughout Illinois who are
considering removing face covering requirements for fully
vaccinated employees should know that they are required to confirm
that an employee is, in fact, fully vaccinated prior to granting
their request to go maskless. This can be accomplished by requiring
employees to present proof of vaccination or by requiring that
employees certify that they are fully vaccinated. Notably, the
Chicago ordinance requires that employers have all employees who
are reporting to the workplace self-certify each day or shift that
they are free of COVID-19 symptoms.

While vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or social
distance under the new guidelines, all employers must:

  • ensure that employees who are not fully vaccinated practice
    social distancing and wear face coverings when social distancing is
    not always possible;

  • ensure that all spaces where employees may gather, including
    locker rooms and lunchrooms, allow for social distancing; and

  • ensure that all visitors (customers, vendors, etc.) to the
    workplace who are not fully vaccinated can practice social
    distancing; but if maintaining a six-foot social distance will not
    be possible at all times, encourage those visitors to wear face
    coverings; and

  • continue to take all necessary steps to protect employees and
    customers by ensuring that any return to work plans adhere to all
    applicable public health guidance.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.

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