What the New CDC Guidelines Could Mean for Mask Demand
The CDC announcement that vaccinated adults don’t have to wear masks outside and in some indoor environments surprised some, after a year of strict mask guidance and health experts underlying the importance of masks for protecting against the spread of COVID.
For the promotional products industry, masks and other PPE items were a lifeline. But things are slowly returning to normal. And, now, industry companies might be left wondering how the abrupt announcement from the CDC could impact demand for masks.
“Over the past few months, since the vaccine has become available, we’ve seen our mask sales drop off already,” said Matt Shucart, president of Advertising Premium Sales. “With this being the case with the CDC, I expect it to drop a whole lot more. I have friends who work in offices that required masks show me emails, as of this morning, from their supervisors, stating that if they’ve been vaccinated they don’t need to wear masks in the office anymore. However, if they haven’t been vaccinated, they still have to comply with the mask policy. Overall, I think, and hope, the mask fad was just that—a fad.”
The CDC announcement isn’t that magic-wand moment that makes everything go away, however. It’s guidance, but it’s not legally binding. Private businesses and other establishments, as well as state and local governments, can still require masks. The TSA recently extended its mask mandate on public transportation such as buses, trains, commercial airplanes and in airports.
Ending any mask mandates nationwide, because of the varying rules from place to place, will be an ongoing effort. And since everyone has, for the most part, gotten used to masks and might have seen how they limit the spread of even less life-threatening illnesses such as the common cold, people might be more warmed up to the idea of wearing masks even post-COVID.
“I personally think that masks are here to stay,” said Johanna Gottlieb, vice president of sales for Axis Promotions. “No one will ever question why someone chooses to wear one in a public place, especially on planes/etc. again. Guidelines may loosen up, but flu season will be here before we know it, and we have learned that protecting ourselves and others is the way to go. I believe we will all be more comfortable in doing day-to-day things mask-free, but also feel a large portion of clients will want to keep masks handy for their employees and clients.”
"As companies start to bring people back to the office and in person, many will ease into it and I assume will still require masks for their employees," said Dan Edge, director of sales at Peerless Umbrella. "Many will provide 'Welcome Back' kits, and I would expect a mask to be in every kit being done!"
In the U.S., masks were a relatively new concept when the pandemic started. We all had a crash course in their effectiveness and use when it became essential. After a year-plus, we’ve seen the success with things like the flu, which dropped in numbers in countries that implemented mask mandates and other social-distancing measures, per the CDC.
Also, the CDC's guidance here pertains only to fully vaccinated individuals. A large percentage of Americans remain unvaccinated, so there will still be a waiting period before everyone can go out without masks, assuming people follow the guidance.
"As trades hows start to happen again, many will also still require masks, even if local or state ordinances do not require," Edge said. "In many cases, it will be a perception and making sure people feel comfortable at the event. That will be very important if they want to draw crowds."
Still, it would be naive to think that a large majority of Americans will wear masks once they don’t "have" to. We’ve spent the past year distanced and, frankly, anonymous in some cases. Demand will almost certainly drop even further than it has. Companies that pivoted to masks won’t be able to hang their hat on that business as much as they did. But masks absolutely belong in promotional product inventories as an option for businesses that need or want them.
If we learned one thing this past year, it was adapting to a new normal. This is the new normal for masks.
"We are definitely bringing in less inventory that what we were doing 6 months ago," Edge said. "But, we are still well stocked and ready for business through the end of the year."