With summer approaching and vaccination numbers surging, the United States' population appears more than ready to return to normalcy after over a year of COVID-19 lockdown. However, while citizens and businesses alike clamor for the economy to fully reopen, President Biden has continued to urge the states to exercise caution when lifting COVID-19 restrictions. Weighing in, federal health experts have estimated that in order for the country to reopen safely, approximately 70%-90% of the population must be immune to the virus. Currently, only between 20%-30% of Americans are fully vaccinated, although that number is rising swiftly.
Nevertheless, states are rapidly reducing their respective COVID-19 restrictions or removing them entirely. Since March 1, 2021, 37 states relaxed COVID restrictions or announced upcoming reductions. Many of these states replaced "requirements" with "recommendations," and repeatedly emphasized the importance of personal responsibility as opposed to government action in combatting the spread of the virus moving forward.
The following table identifies how each state has lifted COVID-19 restrictions since March 1, 2021 or how each has announced its intent do so in the coming months, with a brief description of the change:
|Alabama||4/9/2021||Eliminated state mask mandate but expressly provided that businesses can make their own mask rules.|
|Arizona||3/25/2021||Lifted capacity restrictions on restaurants, gyms, bars, and gatherings of more than 50; banned local ordinances requiring people to wear masks except in public transportation and public buildings.|
|Arkansas||3/30/2021||Lifted most COVID restrictions including mask mandates and bar and restaurant capacity limits.|
|California||N/A||Governor announced plan to reopen the California economy by June 15.|
|Colorado||4/16/2021||Eliminated state mask mandate, control over COVID mitigation efforts given to local authorities.|
|Connecticut||3/19/2021||Indoor capacity restrictions lifted at most locations including dining establishments and offices (although social distancing and cleaning protocols remain in effect); all remaining business restrictions to be lifted by May 19.|
|Delaware||4/1/2021||Eased restrictions on outdoor gatherings, allowing up to 150 people at most venues.|
|Georgia||4/8/2021||All remaining COVID restrictions lifted.|
|Indiana||4/6/2021||Eliminated state mask mandate.|
|Kansas||4/1/2021||Mask mandate struck down by legislator.|
|Kentucky||4/27/2021||Outdoor mask mandate for gatherings under 1,000 people removed; majority of restrictions on Kentucky businesses to be removed by the end of May.|
|Louisiana||3/31/2021||Most COVID restrictions removed, including all capacity limits on restaurants, bars, gyms, retail settings, and all outdoor settings.|
|Maine||4/30/2021||Eliminated outdoor mask mandate; Governor announced that other COVID-related business restrictions to be relaxed beginning on May 10, with all businesses being open without capacity limitations by August 1.|
|Maryland||3/12/2021||Capacity limitations removed from most businesses including restaurants, retail establishments, gyms, and recreational facilities. Large facilities such as stadiums allowed 50% capacity.|
|Massachusetts||4/30/2021||Eliminated outdoor mask mandate; Governor announced that other COVID-related business restrictions to be relaxed beginning on May 10, with all businesses being open without capacity limitations by August 1.|
|Michigan||N/A||Governor announced plan to tie lifting COVID-19
restrictions to the state's vaccination rate. Two
weeks after a specified % of the eligible population receives their
first dose, the following restrictions will be eased or
|Minnesota||4/1/2021 and 4/15/2021||Large venues allowed to have crowds up to 3,000 people, work from home requirements lifted for certain business sectors.|
|Mississippi||3/3/2021||Lifted almost all restrictions and eliminated mask mandate. Only remaining rules are 50% capacity limit on stadiums % (increased to 75% on April 1, 2021) and certain restrictions in K-12 schools.|
|Nevada||6/1/2021||Governor announced the goal for Nevada is to reopen businesses to full capacity by June 1; rulemaking on COVID mitigation efforts turned over to local authorities by May 1.|
|New Hampshire||4/16/2021||Mask mandate expired; all other pandemic-related safety measures, including capacity restrictions, to be lifted on May 7.|
|New Jersey||5/10/2021||Outdoor and indoor gathering limits increased.|
|New Mexico||4/23/2021||Places of worship allowed to open to 100% capacity.|
|New York||5/15/2021||Office capacity limits increased from 50% to 75%, casinos and other gambling locations from 25% to 50%, gyms from 33% to 50%, and outdoor spectator events from 20% to 33%.|
|North Carolina||6/1/2021||Governor announced plans to lift all mandatory social distancing, capacity and mass gathering restrictions by June 1.|
|Ohio||4/8/2021||New health order consolidated the many prior orders into one order; outdoor event capacity limits removed.|
|Oklahoma||3/12/2021||Mask mandate and all statewide restrictions on events and individuals eliminated.|
|Pennsylvania||4/4/2021||Restaurant, gym, mall, and casino capacity increased to 75%, stadiums allowed 25% capacity, alcohol service allowed at bars without food purchase.|
|Rhode Island||5/7/2021||Most businesses will be permitted up to 80% capacity, and all capacity restrictions on those businesses will be removed on May 28.|
|South Carolina||3/5/2021||Mandatory mask requirements in government buildings and restaurants eliminated.|
|Tennessee||4/27/2021||Governor issued Executive Order 80 terminating local officials' authority to issue mask mandates and requesting they lift all local business restrictions and mask requirements by the end of May.|
|Texas||3/3/2021||Mask mandate and all capacity limitations eliminated.|
|Utah||4/10/2021||Mask mandate eliminated. Other COVID restrictions to be further eased in the "coming weeks" according to Governor.|
|Vermont||4/9/2021||Governor unveiled three step plan that will fully reopen Vermont by the Fourth of July, beginning with easing travel restrictions on April 9 and allowing increased capacity for indoor and outdoor gatherings on May 1.|
|Virginia||5/15/2021||Increased maximum capacity for nearly all indoor and outdoor gatherings, with more substantial rollbacks to come in June.|
|Washington||3/22/2021||State entered "phase 3," allowing restaurants, fitness centers, places of worship, and other indoor spaces to increase capacity to 50%; outdoor sporting event capacity limit increased to 25%.|
|West Virginia||3/6/2021||Bars and restaurants opened to 100% capacity, mask mandate remains in effect.|
|Wisconsin||3/31/2021||Mask mandate eliminated.|
|Wyoming||3/16/2021||Repealed statewide mask mandate and allowed bars, restaurants, theaters and gyms to resume normal operations.|
It is important to remember that just because a state has chosen to loosen it COVID-19 safety restrictions does not mean that individual businesses have to lift theirs. The reality is that patrons can expect to continue to see business-specific social distancing, face covering, reduced capacity and other restrictions as businesses see fit.
The removal of COVID-based limitations will have a significant and immediate impact on businesses throughout the nation. Perhaps most noticeably, offices, restaurants, retail establishments, and other businesses will see capacity restrictions vanish. While this will be a welcome return to normalcy for many businesses, they must be prepared. This is especially critical considering the widespread reports that businesses of all sizes are having difficulty hiring new employees despite high unemployment rates. Employers must be prepared with workforces ready and capable of handling increased capacities and increased consumer demand.
Additionally, as businesses reopen they must ensure they comply with all local COVID-19 restrictions, which will stay in effect in many locations even after statewide limitations are lifted or reduced. Furthermore, businesses should look to the recommendations of both the Center for Disease Control and Occupational Safety and Health Administration in developing return-to-work plans. In many industries, masks, social distancing, and limiting congregation of individuals will continue to be critical measures for reducing the spread of COVID-19, along with maximizing ventilation, routine disinfection of high-contact surfaces, and providing hand washing, sanitizer, and sanitizing products.
Employers also will want to continue to immediately isolate and send home individuals who develop symptoms and work with their local health department to assist with contact tracing and notifications of potentially exposed or infected individuals.
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