Change causing confusion: First day of new mask guidance in New York

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(WETM) – “The biggest question was, ‘Is it against HIPAA?’ No, it’s not. We can ask specifically for proof,” Bonnie Mann, general manager at Jim’s Gym in Elmira, said.

Wednesday marks the first day of the new mask guidance in New York State. Gov. Cuomo announced the change earlier this week, which immediately caused confusion among local businesses and governments.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the new recommendations, saying vaccinated people do not need masks in most settings. Unvaccinated Americans still need to mask up. All people should wear their masks on public transport, in healthcare settings, or in correctional facilities. The main question for businesses and patrons is if requesting proof of vaccination violates HIPAA laws.

“A lot of us tend to think that something like our vaccination status is protected by HIPAA. In reality, HIPAA only applies to medical providers, insurance companies, and related entities such as billing companies,” attorney Megan Collins said. “Private businesses can ask an individual whether or not they’re vaccinated. If they’re not, the business can require them to wear a mask.”

Some places are working on the honor system, not requiring proof of vaccination. Businesses like Jim’s Gym in Elmira are requiring patrons to bring their vaccination card to drop their masks. From their, the gym will make a note in the patron’s account.

“Once they show us the card, we go into their account and put they’re vaccinated. That lets us know that they’ve shown it to us,” Mann continued.

Businesses do have the ability to refuse a customer who is not willing to comply with the new rules.

“If I was asked for my vaccination card, I would say I’m not going to give it to you,” Chemung County Executive Christopher Moss said. “If you haven’t been vaccinated, wear your mask.”

Moss also added that businesses should function on the honor system and he does not see a need for asking for physical proof of vaccination.

The new change put a lot of strain on local businesses because it was made quickly without a lot of warning from the state.

“It was very quick. We’re kind of used to that with COVID of having to change things on the fly,” Mann added.

For the most part, Mann says her business has not run into many issues and patrons are trying to do the right thing: respecting the rules and other customers.

“I want to respect the guidelines that they have in place because they’re small business. They’re trying to stay open and also follow the guidelines as best as they can. It’s just us doing our part to make it easy on them,” Emily Hafler of Pine City added.

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