Rarely in the past 15 months has news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought joy, but that was not the case last week when health authorities announced fully vaccinated individuals could safely go unmasked in most indoor and outdoor settings.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown quickly jumped in line with the CDC, saying the state would no longer require fully vaccinated people to cover their faces, with a few exceptions such as hospitals, long-term care facilities and public transit.
For the majority of Americans, who have either received their full series of shots or plan to, it was the biggest signal yet of an end to a return to normalcy after the months-long pandemic that has rewritten virtual every aspect of daily life.
Even for the approximately 15% of the population who say they will never take the vaccine, the news was well-received by many, because they appeared to assume (incorrectly) that businesses cannot ask individuals to voluntarily confirm their vaccination status or (correctly, in many cases) would simply prefer not to.
Although saying the new guidelines would take effect immediately, Brown did not explain last week exactly how businesses and were expected to handle the question of verifying which customers were fully vaccinated and could safely enter unmasked.
This updated guidance from the Oregon Health Authority came Tuesday, saying that fully vaccinated people may ditch the masks only in public settings, businesses and venues where vaccination status is checked.
In public spaces where vaccination status is not checked, masks will still be required.
Businesses and venue operators are free to establish their own, more restrictive policies regarding mask usage, the OHA added.
While one’s vaccination status — and the CDC cards given to immunized people to verify this — are considered private health information, this particular interaction is not prohibited by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
HIPAA applies only to health providers, hospitals and insurers — preventing them from sharing your information without your consent.
It does not prohibit you from voluntarily disclosing information such as immunization records to gain entry to a venue, business — or, indeed, certain colleges, countries or public school — as has been done for decades.
But for business owners and employees, who have been on the front lines of policing ever-changing mask use and social distancing guidelines for months, the new guidance makes an already difficult situation even more challenging.
These perils were underscored this week by the experience of Enchanted Forest, a beloved, family-owned theme park near Salem.
Park owners had to quickly walk back their reopening announcement after their plans to require masks except for those who would agree to verify their vaccination status drew hundreds of irate comments and even threats.
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