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Cleveland attorney says businesses can ask if you’ve been vaccinated, as Ohioans move forward with the state’s amended health order

Updated: May. 15, 2021 at 11:09 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - 19 News is working to cut through the mask confusion. Who can ditch their masks and where?

There has been confusion at area restaurants and now grocery stores about how to handle Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s amended health orders.

While Dave’s Market and Eatery, as well as Giant Eagle, are still requiring customers and staff to wear face masks, Trader Joe’s and Walmart have told customers masks are no longer required in their stores.

On Friday Governor DeWine decided to amend Ohio’s health mandates to match the Center for Disease Controls’ recommendations that if you are vaccinated, you no longer have to wear a mask.

Some exceptions include: hospitals, doctor’s offices, airports, planes, bus stations, and assisted living facilities.

But is it legal for stores to ask if you’ve got the shot, and what about your boss?

“Certainly it is your free speech right if somebody asks you if you’ve been vaccinated to say, “that’s none of your business,” and that’s okay,” said attorney Marc Dann of the Dann Law Firm and a former Ohio Attorney General. “But the person who’s asking can then make a business decision based on that response.”

That business decision could mean you’re turned away at the door. Some shoppers in Cleveland tell 19 News it’s understandable because there is still the fear that COVID-19 remains a threat.

Jeff Hall of Cleveland is fully vaccinated but still wears his mask.

“It ain’t over with,” he said. “We got a ways to go.”

Face masks mandated for protection during the coronavirus pandemic are no longer required for Ohioans in most cases if you’re vaccinated. But attorney Dann says businesses may still prefer their customers wear masks when you shop in their stores.

And many customers say they feel the same way.

“I don’t like wear it (the mask), but I feel safer wearing it,” said Cassandra Orr, of Cleveland.

“I’m still not comfortable yet being in public without my mask,” said Shaletha Mitchell, also of Cleveland.

Dann said that businesses do have the right to ask if you’re vaccinated.

“Absolutely. You can ask that question,” he said.

It’s perfectly legal, Dann explained, to ask if you’ve received the shot, and he says it in no way violates HIPAA laws regarding someone’s confidential health information.

“So, HIPAA prevents me from telling a third party about your health information without your permission,” he said. “But for me to ask if you’ve been vaccinated is not a violation of HIPAA, and your decision to tell me your personal information about your medical condition is certainly not a violation of HIPAA.”

It’s a new phase in the battle against COVID, as everyone navigates and translates Ohio’s updated health orders.

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