SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
More states, including Illinois and Connecticut, plus the District of Columbia, are set to roll back mask mandates this week. The CDC has new guidance showing infection rates low enough that about 70% of Americans can now consider removing masks. But as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, some businesses are still uneasy and making their own policies.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Connecticut's statewide mask mandate goes away this Tuesday, but not within the four walls of Stacy Glazier's salon.
STACY GLAZIER: Because I'm a private business, it's my rules. It doesn't matter what the town or the state does. It's my rules.
NOGUCHI: Glazier left her old hair salon and opened a one-woman shop in Hamden during the pandemic. She figured it would be safer. Plus, she tired of losing money every time stylists got exposed.
GLAZIER: I don't want to have to close my business again, and I do not believe we're out of the woods. It would be irresponsible and foolish.
NOGUCHI: Most clients understand, she says. She's parted ways with those who don't.
GLAZIER: I did have a client that tried to give me some pushback. His wife is a nurse. She's a COVID nurse, and he was giving me a hard time about wearing a mask in here.
NOGUCHI: As of March 1, indoor mask mandates will remain in only three states - Washington, Oregon and Hawaii. The CDC pegged its guidance based on local hospitalization and new case rates. But polls show the country still split over mask mandates, mostly along party lines, which means there's still a patchwork of masking on the job and in daily life.
VIVEK CHERIAN: This is something that comes up in almost every conversation I have with my patients.
NOGUCHI: Dr. Vivek Cherian treats hospitalized patients in Chicago. He says many worry about Illinois ending its mask mandate after this month.
CHERIAN: They are just kind of uncomfortable where we are right now in the pandemic, even though things are looking much, much better. But they're also seeing 2,000 people are still dying every day.
NOGUCHI: How risky unmasking is depends on many variables. Abraar Karan is an infectious disease doctor at Stanford.
ABRAAR KARAN: It's not a binary of whether they work or don't work. Certain masks work much better than others.
NOGUCHI: Effectiveness depends also on things like ventilation, humidity and, of course, how well the mask is worn, which is why Bill Duggan never saw a point to requiring masks in restaurants or bars like his in the first place.
BILL DUGGAN: It's become kind of a joke or at least theater, you know, because people have to wear masks to walk through the door, but as soon as they have a drink or eating anything, then they don't wear it.
NOGUCHI: Duggan owns Madam's Organ, a landmark Blues bar in Washington, D.C. Indoor mask mandates expire there after Monday. He says they've been ineffective and hard to enforce. He says the city should have focused instead on mandating vaccines for indoor diners. In fact, his bar still checks vaccination cards at the door, even though the city no longer requires it. He says that's where the battle ought to be fought.
DUGGAN: I had one of my closest friends, as well as a musician who's been with me for 28 years - he died on November 4.
NOGUCHI: The friend didn't want to get vaccinated.
DUGGAN: Truthfully, it got me pissed off as well as heartbroken.
NOGUCHI: Meanwhile, across most of the country, mask mandates are a thing of the past or never existed. Missouri never had a mask mandate. In Kansas City, where Christopher Ciesiel works, mandate expired a couple weeks ago. Ciesiel owns a restaurant called The Campground.
CHRISTOPHER CIESIEL: So we just kind of been in no man's land trying to figure it out ourselves.
NOGUCHI: Ciesiel still requires proof of vaccination and strongly recommends masks indoors, in part because he's a former nurse and has a daughter too young to vaccinate. Some customers pushed back, but on balance, he says, the policies have helped business.
CIESIEL: I feel like now we've kind of whittled away all the guests that would have been problems for us anyways. So now it almost feels like our clientele is coming to us because we're doing this.
NOGUCHI: For example, one customer came in with her family.
CIESIEL: She's battling terminal cancer, doesn't know how long she has. They haven't gone out in probably the last, like, two years. But they came here because they felt safe.
NOGUCHI: It also helps, Ciesiel says, because unlike neighboring stores, he and his staff haven't closed because they haven't gotten sick. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.