Legal expert: ‘Nobody wants to be the test case’ in enforcing San Diego mask rules

Business

SAN DIEGO — Some local businesses are grappling with how and whether to enforce new state and local mask rules when they go into place in mid-June.

The county plans to adhere to California guidelines and wait until June 15 to lift the requirement for face coverings in indoor settings and crowded outdoor settings for people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s the same day state officials are expected to lift most virus-related restrictions if current positive trends continue.

But shifting guidance creates a new challenge for businesses to know which customers are vaccinated and what they’re even allowed to ask.

It’s created a bit of a gray area for some, according to FOX 5 legal expert Wendy Patrick.

“Right now they are erring on the side of caution and they don’t want to invade anybody’s private business, so what they’re doing is relying on the honor system,” Patrick said. “They don’t want to say ‘no shoes, no shot, no service,” and they’re worried about potential ramifications if they start prying and asking questions.”

Under current rules, face coverings are not required outdoors except at crowded events, and — for unvaccinated people — when physical distancing cannot be maintained. In indoor settings outside the home including public transportation and schools, face coverings continue to be required regardless of vaccination status.

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its guidance, saying that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can largely stop wearing a mask in most indoor and outdoor situations.

That announcement did not immediately reverse existing mask-wearing requirements in San Diego County or in California as a whole.

San Diego County requirements allow fully vaccinated residents to shed masks while indoors with other fully vaccinated people. But mask mandates remain in place for everyone working at or patronizing businesses — such as grocery stores or retail shops.

That all could change next month, potentially bringing a new headache to some places.

While some businesses are aware of privacy laws, Patrick said there’s never been vaccine-specific privacy laws, and that “nobody wants to be the test case” in enforcing the latest guidelines. It potentially sets up a dichotomy where some businesses adhere to an honor system while others attempt to enforce new mask rules more strictly.

As of now, Patrick said there’s little pandemic-related case law to reference, but she expects there may be in the future. She anticipates that mask guidelines likely would spur more.

“It’s only through litigation that we’ll have future legislation that will actually give business owners some answers to these tough questions as to what they’re legally allowed to ask,” she said.

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