In a slightly unexpected move, the CDC announced that it would be safe for people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to drop their masks in most settings.
We updated our guidelines for fully vaccinated people because:
1. # COVID19 cases have failed
2. Vaccines are widely used
3. Vaccines = 90-95% effective in real studies
4. Vaccines work against variants
5. Fully vaccinated people are less likely to transmit the virus https://t.co/Ri5KvWfRxh
– Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH (@CDCDirector) May 14, 2021
And while some people eagerly welcomed the news, others were less interested and discussed the uncertainties that come with such an announcement. The change in mask policy in particular poses a challenging question for many companies: mask or not mask? While retailers like Costco and Trader Joe’s trust shoppers to comply with CDC regulations, customers and employees worry that people are lying about their vaccination status. Using Sprout Social’s Advanced Listening, we analyzed over 208,000 messages on Twitter from April 24th to May 26th, 2021 to learn more about how businesses and consumers are reacting to the latest mask guidelines.
Companies are looking for orientation in a world after the mask
Masks have been a part of the online conversation since the world was first locked. That conversation spiked on May 14 when the CDC director went on Good Morning America to announce the new mask guidelines. By May 15, retailers like Publix and Starbucks have updated their business guidelines to reflect the federal decision.
To further complicate matters, various states are issuing their own guidelines to complement the CDC’s announcement. In Oregon, fully vaccinated individuals must provide proof of vaccination to enter a business without a mask.
Organizations must have a vaccination status review policy in place when they no longer need masks or physical distancing. https://t.co/YELAC1goGU
– Central Oregon Daily News (@CODaily) May 18, 2021
Meanwhile, California officials have asked everyone to continue wearing masks until companies and workers have had time to prepare for the CDC’s updated guidelines.
Californians fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will no longer need to wear masks in most indoor spaces as of June 15 – the same day the goal was set for the state economy to reopen, officials said Monday.
– Los Angeles Times (@latimes) May 17, 2021
The CDC’s announcement encountered conflicting emotions, with tweets via masks being registered as predominantly negative (45% negative, 32% positive, 23% neutral). The sudden announcement and questions about government policies have also created confusion. Some companies aren’t sure which recommendations to follow.
If you are vaccinated, should you wear a mask indoors? The CDC and some companies like #TraderJoes #Walmart say you don’t have to. However, we are still waiting for the official guidance from the state which has confused some buyers @ ABC7 https://t.co/ryfjIXueuX
– Josh Haskell (@ abc7JoshHaskell) May 15, 2021
Some reps are concerned about how quickly shoppers can be willing to walk around without a mask.
Let’s discuss the fear of retail and grocery employees. Today I had a customer who said to me: “Are you afraid that my desire will reach you?” Hold the mask in one hand and do not leave it alone to wear it properly. Then you tell me, “Oh, just wait, June 15th!”
– viv (@vivianteresaa) May 23, 2021
It also leads to anger and frustration, especially when employees feel like they can’t ask shopkeepers to mask themselves to keep workers who haven’t been vaccinated safe. Of the 19,383 tweets that mentioned employees and workers, 56% were negative, 32% positive, and 12% neutral.
People without a mask walk freely through my workplace (grocery store), my manager cannot do anything. Many workers have not yet been vaccinated.
I am mad about it. # NotAJoke #Alberta #WearAMask # COVID19
– Darci She / Them @ (@Zancett) May 16, 2021
To ensure worker protection, companies should clearly communicate what policies their businesses have in the social field to keep customers updated on the latest policies. And once these guidelines are in place, there needs to be consensus at each site to adhere to these rules and ensure that they are consistently enforced.
A hot button problem with consumers
To nobody’s surprise, almost all online members had an opinion on the CDC’s decision to lift mask restrictions. Some used the news as an opportunity to flaunt the decision not to wear a mask, even if it comes at the expense of the discomfort of others around them.
At the same time, many people say they will continue to mask themselves in stores until everyone is given a vaccine.
I went to Target yesterday for the first time since New Mexico (and Target) lifted the mask mandate, and 100% of the business – employees and customers – wore masks anyway. PUH.
Really grateful to live in a place where common sense prevails.
– Anna Dorfman @ (@doorsixteen) May 24, 2021
Others were relieved to see shoppers continued to wear masks despite the policy changes.
It’s been a week since Publix lifted his mask mandate. No more sign in front of the door. When I left today, everyone in the store was still wearing masks! Customers and employees. I thought I would be the only one! It made me proud. I pray it will go on for a while.
– Laura👠Marlin (@GiGicmka) May 21, 2021
The tension between anti-maskers and mask-wearers seems to be mounting even higher in grocery stores that received 14,992 mentions. Traffic jam emerged in tweets mentioning groceries or grocery stores on May 21 amid discussions about whether or not to require masks indoors.
Ready or not, (some) masks come off
The demand for milder mask requirements is growing as more people are vaccinated across the country. Now is the time for companies to figure out what in-store policies are and make sure those policies are consistently enforced.
In stores that are still unsure of what to do, you should listen to your customers and co-workers to get a better sense of the decisions everyone is comfortable with and confident about. In addition to following state and local guidelines, it is important that you also consider feedback from people physically in your stores. Once your in-store policies are in place, proactively share these changes with your audience and create a social customer support plan to ensure that any questions asked on social media are answered in a timely and consistent manner.
As you prepare your business for this next phase of the pandemic, remember to keep your community’s expectations in mind. This article will show you how you can use tools like social listening to keep your business informed of the rapidly changing mask policies to learn more about what you need for a post-COVID world.