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Community Broadcaster: Masks Off

Are state changes prompting stations to stop requiring face coverings?

The author is executive director of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. NFCB commentaries are featured regularly at

The start of summer is officially June 20, though you may not know it from the number of outings afoot. For stations, that will require evaluation of a critical safety consideration: face coverings.

Some weeks back, I noted in Radio World some of the top-line issues radio stations that had previously been closed would have to meditate on before reopening to staff, volunteers and the public. From cleaning and entrance protocols to vaccination requirements, radio stations will have many matters to decide about.

[Read: Community Broadcaster: Going to the Doges]

Masks are another subject entirely. They create in us some anxiety because face coverings almost always signify being in close quarters with others. The notion of contact with possible illness heightens stress. In some circles, masks have also become a flashpoint in an old-school culture war.

Earlier in May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated individuals could safely not wear face coverings indoors, prompting dozens of states to lift restrictions for masking during indoor activities. However, most Americans say they will continue to be cautious.

For radio stations with staff and/or volunteers, the conversation may be partially resolved by understanding how many people are vaccinated and overall infection rates locally. In the case of radio stations that welcome guests or the public into their facilities, management decisions get more complex. Is it better to require face coverings until vaccination rates grow in a community? What about taking into account vulnerable communities such as young children who can’t get vaccinated yet or those with health complications?

coronavirus, COVID-19

As is always the case in local health questions, stations should talk with city, county and state leaders to help determine the right course of action. You will want to understand your area’s latest infection numbers as well as progress on and availability of vaccinations. If your state has particular edicts in place, your station should confirm that whatever policy you choose adheres to state and county rules, especially if they forbid specific business restrictions. Your station may want to inquire about how local businesses or nonprofits are handling mask requirements and, when lifted, how operations are changing. For instance, are there new methods for air circulation, or limits to the number of people in spaces?

Communication and signage about mask rules in your studios and building are also important. If you will have requirements, it is wise to ensure there are signs, notices on your website for guests, and contact with your staff and volunteers about station policy. Similarly, if your station will allow staff, volunteers and guests to take their masks off, it is vital that you share word of this in the same fashion. Getting out in front with messaging will reduce confusion.

Although lately it seems like the pandemic ended, it is remains a specter in many communities. Face coverings are still critical in preventing the spread of the virus. But, if community trends say it is time to reassess your station’s guidelines around masks, you may do so with prudence.