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Boise business owners faced with decisions regarding mask requirements, proof of vaccination

Across the city, business owners are on both sides of the issue. Despite their differing opinions, two Boise business owners are simply looking for more clarity.

BOISE, Idaho — In the days following the repeal of the city of Boise's mask mandate, local businesses are now faced with the decision of whether to require masks for customers and staff. 

Across the city, business owners are on both sides of the issue. Despite their differing opinions, however, two Boise business owners are simply looking for more clarity.

"When things get sprung on people that quickly, it's just kind of do what you think is best," said Josh Davis, owner of JD's Bodega in Boise.

Following the city's latest guidance, Davis made masks optional at the downtown store.

"It's hard trying to run a business and then policing customers and at the same time trying not to create the aggravation," he said.

To avoid confrontation and still provide a safe place for customers, Davis is still requiring his employees to wear masks.

"We are all trying to figure it out. It's been a little frustrating I guess," he said. "Because basically they just change all the parameters and don't give a lot of guidelines or expectations of what we are supposed to do."

Sierra Heavin Hunter, owner of the Dragonfly Boutique in downtown Boise, agrees that the decision to repeal the mask mandate came as a surprise. For that reason, she is still requiring masks to be worn in the store.

"I wish we could have had a meeting or something with downtown just to know what was going on because yeah, it does feel very sudden," Heavin Hunter said. " I would love to say 'It's fine everybody, let's just all not wear masks,' but I don't know. It's scary to me." 

While the owners are on opposite ends of mask use, both said they do not feel comfortable asking customers for proof of vaccination or thought it was not allowed. 

Gov. Brad Little issued an executive order more than a month ago that will not permit state agencies to request proof of vaccination, or "vaccine passports."

The order, however, only applies to state agencies.

"That order by its terms only applies to state agencies, so when talking about public accommodations and restaurants, hotels, things like that, that order wouldn't have an effect," said Professor John Rumel, a law professor at the University of Idaho College of Law.

Businesses can decide who they want to do business with but cannot exclude those protected in the Civil Rights Act, according to Rumel. Additionally, experts say the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) cannot protect customers from having to show their vaccination card.

"HIPAA only covers what are known as covered entities, and so unless a restaurant or hotel is also a medical provider, HIPAA would not have any application in this context," Rumel said.

For now, it is up to individual business owners to decide what is best for their business and their customers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plans to provide clarity to its updated mask guidance in the coming weeks.

A spokesperson for the city of Boise said they have not heard any concerns or questions about the new guidance but will support whatever decision the CDC makes. They will also support the decisions of local businesses in Boise.

   

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