Marion County businesses react to loosening restrictions on masks, capacity

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INDIANAPOLIS – The day after the Indianapolis City-County Council voted to ease several Covid-19 restrictions, including mask mandates for vaccinated people, Marion County businesses are making decisions on how best to adjust to the new rules.

Along Mass Ave. Tuesday, several businesses still had signs asking customers to continue wearing masks. One of those is Silver in the City.

“We are going to keep requiring masks until everyone on our staff who is choosing to get vaccinated has had a chance to get vaccinated and then had the two weeks post their second shot,” said General Manager Claire Shipley. “We’re probably looking at least until the end of June to be requiring masks down here at our Mass Ave store, and then we’ll go to a mask optional.”

Nearby, customers are free to walk into Slapfish with no mask.

“We’re going to follow the city’s guidelines and honor the fact that if customers have been vaccinated, they don’ have to wear a mask anymore,” said owner Mark Weghorst.

However, Slapfish employees will continue wearing masks for now, Weghorst said. The same policy is now in effect at Shapiro’s Deli. Customers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not need to wear a mask, but workers will keep theirs on for the time being. Shapiro’s owner Brian Shapiro says 95% of their employees are fully vaccinated. 

Outside Shapiro’s, Steve Fisher kept his mask on as he walked toward the front door.

“I’m not getting the vaccine, so I can’t remove it,” he said.

Businesses can’t ask customers whether they’ve been vaccinated without violating medical privacy laws, according to Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber. However, Professor of Law at the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University Jody Madeira says otherwise.

“It’s perfectly legal for a business to ask you for your vaccination card – it’s equally legal for patrons to refuse to answer,” said Madeira.

A fact check by the Associated Press also claims business can ask customers if they’ve been vaccinated without violating the law.

The new rules are creating an honor system where businesses must rely on the honesty of patrons regarding their vaccination status.

“I think people have been through a lot with this and they’re going to be honest with it,” Weghorst said.

“I feel like we have the kind of base that you can trust the customers, and if anyone is not wearing a mask it’s because they’re vaccinated,” Shipley stated.

Although businesses can’t ask customers about vaccination status, Brinegar says they will certainly be asking employees those questions.

“I believe we will see more and more employers requiring employees to be vaccinated in order to come back to work,” Brinegar said. “There are a number of restaurants that are going to require their employees to get vaccinated by a certain date in July or they will not be able to maintain their employment.”

Bars and restaurants are now limited to 75% capacity in Marion County. That could be lifted to 100% once the county population reaches a 50% vaccination rate. Doctor Virginia Caine hopes to reach that level by July 4. Currently, roughly 36% of Marion County’s population is fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, other large facilities are adjusting policies to coincide with new requirements. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis released a statement saying that plans are in the works for next steps regarding masks, socials distancing and increasing capacity from 50% to 75%.

“The Children’s Museum is excited to roll out a plan to bring back most hands-on experiences throughout the next three weeks,” said spokesperson Leslie Olsen in a statement. “Our advisory panel of scientists, physicians and community health experts concludes that new research about how COVID-19 is spread will allow us to safely return of most of the interactive experiences that make our museum unique.”

Phil Ray, General Manager of the J.W. Marriott says employees at the hotel will continue to wear masks for now, but guests will be able to make their own decisions.

CORRECTION: The original version of this story stated that businesses can’t ask customers whether they’ve been vaccinated without violating medical privacy laws. However, this has been disputed, and the article has been updated with additional information.

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