The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced May 16 that fully vaccinated people can resume activities as they did before the pandemic — without wearing a mask or physically distancing, indoors or out.
They qualified the pronouncement by saying there were exceptions when required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including business and workplace guidance.
Then, Michigan health leaders followed up to say the state would align with the data and science that supported the CDC’s shift in guidance. In Michigan, if you’re vaccinated, no mask required. Those who are not vaccinated, or have not completed their vaccinations, should still wear masks to protect themselves and others.
Welp. What’s a winery to do? How do they know who’s vaccinated and who isn’t? And is that their job, anyway?
Kathy Sturm, executive director of the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail representing some 15 southwestern Michigan wineries, polled her members and reports that most are not requiring masks of customers who are fully vaccinated now. Those who are not vaccinated are expected to wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth until they are seated and tasting.
Dustin Tyler, marketing director at Modales Wines in Fennville, says his winery is going to continue to require masks for visitors to enter for at least two more weeks.
“This will allow the CDC and local officials time to outline further guidance regarding capacity, sanitation and, in general, more information,” Tyler says.
At the same time, Modales isn’t going to be the mask police.
“We are not going to chase people down who are abiding by the new state-issued guidelines,” he says.
Employees will continue to wear masks — whether they’re vaccinated or not — for the time being as the winery awaits more guidance. That’s the way the staff wants it, too.
“We always knew getting back to ‘normal’ would come with its obstacles,” Tyler says, noting that the lifting of mask requirements for vaccinated individuals in the state “did seem a bit premature based on the fact that just a few weeks ago, Michigan was the worst in the country, but here we are.”
Peninsula Cellars on the Old Mission Peninsula is also going to continue asking guests and employees to wear masks regardless of vaccination status, says Operations Manager Caitlin Hammond.
As of May 18, she reports, “MIOSHA (Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not yet changed their policies for employers. And regardless of public policy, we have a moral obligation to keep our guests and employees safe. So we’ll continue to mask up for the time being.”
And while she’s excited to see progress in the trek back to normalcy, she says the guidelines can put small businesses like hers in a tricky position.
“We are both enforcement, salesperson, political referees, etc.,” she wrote via email. “We just want to showcase our hard work and beautiful wines, and that can be challeging when our guests are frustrated with our expectations.
“That said, those frustrated guests are few and far between right now — and we are grateful for that.”
Meanwhile, dealing with the pandemic for the past 16 months or so has made her team stronger.
“We’ve become masters of resilience,” she says. “We are all itching to get back to normal, but all our employees understand we have to do what we feel is best for our community.”
Geoff Frey, co-owner at Crooked Vine Vineyard & Winery in Alanson, says customers will still be asked to wear masks if they’re inside but not at the bar tasting. Masks are not required outdoors. He and his wife operate the tasting room alone and “we let customers know that we are all vaccinated,” he says.
Going with the Guidance
Other wineries are going with the CDC’s guidance and lifting mask requirements for vaccinated customers.
At White Pine Winery, owner Dave Miller — also president of the Michigan Wine Collaborative — says the winery is lifting its face mask requirement for those who are vaccinated and will rely on the honor system in requesting that nonvaccinated customers wear them.
White Pine is taking down some of the barriers it erected as shields around the bar during the pandemic.
“We are still sanitizing between customers, using a sneeze shield at the cash register and limiting capacity,” he notes.
They’ve also purchased an air filter to clean the air in the tasting room and will continue using it for now.
Meanwhile, Miller sees the latest CDC directive as “a step in the right direction to regaining normalcy.”
“It complicates things because we can’t verify if a person is vaccinated,” he says. “We have encouraged employees to get vaccinated to remove risk and most have done that.”
Workers who are not vaccinated must still wear masks, Miller says. Those who are don’t have to wear a mask, but can if they choose to.
“Part of hospitality is facial expression, smiles, etc.,” he says. “And we are happy to engage in that again.”
McKenzie Gallagher, co-owner at Rove Estate on the Leelanau Peninsula, is also no longer requiring vaccinated individuals to wear masks per the most recent CDC update.
“This has been a pretty charged topic for over a year, so we just go along with the rules and what the CDC deems safe,” she says.
Like White Pine, Rove will go by an honor system.
“We are excited to get back to a more ‘normal’ season,” Gallagher says. “It makes sense to encourage folks to get vaccinated by loosening mask mandates.”
Rove will continue to follow pandemic sanitation protocols, which includes distancing of tables and reduced capacity indoors and out. Staff will continue to be masked.
John Braganini at St. Julian says they are also following the updated CDC/state guidelines.
“We implement the most current changes as they come from state and local authorities and do so with the best guidance we can get,” he says. “Our customers and employees have adjusted to each successive change with few issues or problems.”
Two Sets of Rules?
Chateau Chantal on the Old Mission Peninsula also plans to continue following CDC and state guidelines for guest interaction and workplace safety.
“What that means for us today is that all staff will still be masked, but guests who meet the mask exemption requirements — including fully vaccinated people — are free to be indoors/outdoors with no mask,” says Marie-Chantal Dalese, president and CEO.
At the same time, she notes that she’s waiting for MIOSHA to catch up with clarifications. The CDC/state guidance left a lot of unanswered questions, she says — what will happen regarding current capacity limits, barriers and social distancing for those not vaccinated among them.
“Having two sets of rules for guests is not an easy thing to deal with when trying to run your business,” Dalese notes.
As for her staff, Dalese says they’re “rolling with the punches.”
“They understand that rules are continuing to change and are OK continuing to comply with the mask requirements for staff here at our business,” she says.
Lipgloss, Here We Come
Metro Detroit’s Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room locations are also continuing to follow CDC and state guidance as they have throughout the pandemic. They’re removing the mask requirement for fully vaccinated guests and expect that fully vaccinated employees will be able to take off their masks after MIOSHA updates its guidance.
“Some of our guests and team members may choose to continue wearing their masks regardless,” says co-owner Cortney Casey. “We certainly respect their right to do so.
“We want everyone to feel as comfortable as possible in a period of transition that is bound to be a bit nerve-wracking for most people.”
Casey had mixed feelings about the CDC’s latest move.
“To be honest, I do believe if we’re following the science, and the science says vaccines are effective, then we should be moving forward,” she says. “I’m fully vaccinated and I’m grateful that science has allowed this to be possible, to give us a chance at getting back to normal life, or something close to it.
“From a business perspective, it’s one more headache in that it always feels like people are judging you even if you’re following what the government tells you what you can and can’t do.”
At Macomb County’s Youngblood Vineyard, public operations are entirely outdoors and in season, reopening on Memorial Day. Guests were never required to wear masks last summer, though staff did.
“This season, our entire staff including our own kids are vaccinated so we will not be wearing masks,” says co-owner Jessica Youngblood, noting that there was never a case of a customer or staff reporting COVID exposure last season. “We are excited to be vaccinated and mask free and can’t wait to get back to serving in the great outdoors and wearing lipgloss and fogless sunglasses again.”