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Relaxed Masking Rules Mean Tough Decisions for Meetings

While the AHLA has announced looser Covid-19 safety guidelines, meeting owners might remain conservative about protecting attendees.

On the heels of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention releasing new guidance on physical distancing and masking for people vaccinated against Covid-19, the American Hotel & Lodging Association announced this week that its Safe Stay guidelines for hotels are loosening.

“The recent CDC guidelines for vaccinated Americans are welcome news and should help speed up a much-needed recovery,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA. “Throughout the pandemic our Safe Stay guidelines continued to evolve to align with the current environment and CDC guidelines, and the same will be true as we work to reopen.

“In light of the recent CDC announcement that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in most settings, our Safe Stay guidelines will relax mask requirements for guests who are fully vaccinated,” Rogers added. “As we await further direction on how CDC guidance applies to businesses, hotel employees should continue to wear face-coverings indoors for the time being and follow local business and workplace guidance. Of course, all hotels are required to follow state and local requirements, which may go beyond what is recommended by the CDC.

“At this time, we are not asking hotels to require proof of vaccination status, but we do ask that all guests and workers, vaccinated or not, respect and honor these revised guidelines,” Rogers said. “Unvaccinated guests should wear face-coverings at all times and practice physical distancing.”  

For in-person meetings and events in the foreseeable future, however, some groups might choose to err on the side of caution and continue to require masks for all attendees. Why? A few reasons. First, a significant percentage of the population remains unvaccinated. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 15 percent of U.S. adults did not want to get a Covid vaccine until they knew more about how it affected others. Another six percent said they would get vaccinated only if required by their employers, and 13 percent said they would definitely not get vaccinated. In total, that represents 34 percent of the 40 percent of total U.S. adults who are not vaccinated as of mid-May. For herd immunity to happen, many virologists estimate that at least 70 percent of the entire U.S population—not just adults—must be vaccinated or have some immunity due to prior Covid infection. Right now, the FDA has approved vaccinations for people ages 12 and up.

Second, proof of vaccinations won’t be required for most meetings and using the honor system for mask wearing is unreliable. An April survey by Meeting Professionals International found that just 12 percent of planners said that they will require participants of upcoming events to show proof of vaccination. And a recent survey of more than 400 planners 
conducted by Global DMC Partners found that only 55 percent of respondents said their future meetings might require proof of Covid vaccination, while just 48 percent said that Covid testing on site will be likely. 

For meeting groups that will ask participants about the vaccination status or require a negative Covid test before entering an event, this MeetingsNet article
 details the legal implications planners must consider as they develop such protocols.

Meeting hosts that maintain a face-masking requirement would need to consider the possibility that communication quality might be diminished among participants. This MeetingsNet article
 provides lessons and ideas to improve interaction among masked attendees. 

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