Small businesses fear enforcement burden of R.I.’s partial indoor mask mandate

CHRISTOPHER PARISI, founder of Trailblaze Marketing and leader of the Rhode Island Small Business Coalition, said the coalition does not support any measures that increases burdens on small businesses, but appreciates the fact that the state is giving small businesses an option to institute a mask mandate or a vaccine requirement. / COURTESY RHODE ISLAND SMALL BUSINESS COALITION
CHRISTOPHER PARISI, founder of Trailblaze Marketing and leader of the Rhode Island Small Business Coalition, said the coalition does not support any measures that increases burdens on small businesses, but appreciates the fact that the state is giving small businesses an option to institute a mask mandate or a vaccine requirement. / COURTESY RHODE ISLAND SMALL BUSINESS COALITION

PROVIDENCE – Small businesses fear being unfairly burdened with enforcing Gov. Daniel J. McKee’s new health requirements that include partial mask mandates, business advocacy groups said on Wednesday.

Christopher Carlozzi Sr., state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses/Rhode Island, said the mandates put small businesses in “a very unenviable position” where they’re going to have to police the new regulations.

“For us, that’s a problem,” Carlozzi said. “These business owners and their workers have to deal with the customers. You’ve seen how public reaction can be with some of these things. Now, some staffer who should be waiting a table or working a register now has to enforce state health laws. Coupled with businesses already dealing with major staffing shortages where they’re struggling to bring people back into city settings, when [mandates] get put into place, it disrupts that.”

For businesses with a capacity of less than 250, proof of vaccination or indoor masking will be required, said McKee, for at least 30 days starting on Dec. 20.

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Businesses and other indoor venues with a capacity of 250 people or more must require indoor masking among guests and employees.

Christopher Parisi, founder of Trailblaze Marketing and leader of the Rhode Island Small Business Coalition, said the group does not support any measures that increases burdens on small businesses.

Parisi said he was heartened that McKee did not announce enforcement penalties on smaller businesses with capacities less than 250 people. But he added that restaurants would have more of a challenge enforcing the guidelines than other operations, such as yoga studios or gyms, because their yoga and gym members will be logged in their systems and not have to be constantly checked.

Sarah R. Bratko, the Rhode Island Hospitality Association’s senior vice president of advocacy and general counsel, said the association surveyed its membership last week about how they felt about mask and vaccine mandates, and the results “were mixed.” She did say there is “enough flexibility” in this new mandate program for small businesses to make things work.

McKee on Wednesday did not rule of some type of penalties for failure to follow or enforce the mandates, but did say he was not in favor of fines. Bratko said how the state chooses to enforce the mandates will be important to businesses.

“The people who follow the rules will do it because they do the right thing, and there will always be a minority of businesses that don’t,” Bratko said, “which put the ones that do in a slightly competitive disadvantage. We need that consistency across the board.”

Carlozzi and Bratko both said they will be in touch with the governor’s office to express their concerns and hope to get clarification on how best to proceed over the next month. Parisi also said he hopes the R.I. Department of Health can provide “a solution” that will make it easy for Rhode Islanders and small businesses to show vaccination proof.

McKee spokesperson Alana O’Hare in an email Wednesday said the state’s enforcement procedures and other logistics will come out as part of an FAQ sheet put out for businesses in the coming days.

Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau CEO and President Kristen Adamo expressed some concern that upcoming youth sporting events could suffer due to the temporary mandates.

Adamo said the state is slated to host the Martin Luther King Hockey Tournament on Jan. 15 and a gymnastics competition at the R.I. Convention Center on Jan. 20, right on the cusp of the 30-day mandate period. Those events are expected to each bring in $1.3 million to the state, Adamo said.

R.I. Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott said Wednesday that while college athletes can be unmasked during competition, youth athletes cannot.

“It’s going to make it difficult to have gymnasts masked,” Adamo said. She said each event is contracted, which means the events will proceed, but she is worried about attendance suffering.

Adamo is confident that the staff working at both the R.I. Convention Center and the Dunkin’ Donuts Center will provide the necessary enforcement to make sure the guidelines are followed.

But, it is unclear how the R.I. Convention Center Authority, which oversees both the R.I. Convention Center and the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, will institute enforcement of the state’s new health requirements. RICCA Executive Director Daniel McConaghy did not immediately respond Wednesday for comment.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Let’s hope the small businesses don’t take the easy path of simply requiring all patrons to wear a mask. There’s no reason for vaccinated individuals with full boosters to be masking. The vaccines and tools available to prevent serious illness and death are in place. We are not in the situation we were in at the start of the pandemic. We need to stop acting as if we are. Masking is a “feel-good” response. Is it not silly that you wear a mask entering a restaurant and then take it off while sitting at the table? As if the virus mysteriously disappears while you’re eating. And somehow the virus knows whether you are a college or professional athlete and should bypass you. Foolishness. If masking was materially effective then we should have already stopped or slowed the spread with all the prior mask mandates. Seriously, what is the end game? We don’t need “feel good” half-baked measures that don’t significantly move the needle but simply add unnecessary burdens to businesses and patrons alike. Governor McKee’s initial business instincts were correct in avoiding a mask mandate. Follow the lead of Colorado’s governor and walk this back. It’s ineffective.

    The only rational, feasible response was and continues to be to get vaccinated and continue working on alternative solutions for those that are unable to get vaccinated. The vast majority of the US population CAN get vaccinated. The “greater good” is for all to get vaccinated and get your booster. I’m all for choice but I’m also for consequences and accountability if you chose not to get vaccinated. The rest of us and the economy need to move on.