The CDC has said even vaccinated adults should wear masks in restaurants; chains restaurants are following suit.

Last month, the CDC reversed course on its mask guidance: In May, the federal agency had said vaccinated Americans could mostly stop wearing masks, but last month, worries over the Delta variant led the CDC to once again update its policy, this time saying even vaccinated Americans should wear masks in restaurants. But this guidance is just that: a recommendation. The question quickly became who would follow. Last week, two of America's biggest restaurant chains essentially did.

As America's largest coffee chain — and therefore an integral part of many people's day — Starbucks has served as a bit of a barometer on which way the pandemic weather has been turning, dating way back to March of 2020 when the chain first closed all of its stores to carryout customers. This past May, Starbucks respected the CDC guidance, making face coverings optional for vaccinated customers except where local regulations required them. But now, in light of the change in government advice, Starbucks too has backtracked a bit. Last Monday, the coffee chain updated its own COVID-19 response page with some policy tweaks.

A person wearing a protective mask walks past a Starbucks coffee shop
Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images

"In alignment with the updated guidance from the CDC, Starbucks strongly recommends customers wear facial coverings while visiting our stores, regardless of vaccination status," the chain wrote. "Where mandated by local law or regulation, Starbucks will require customers wear masks while in our stores. Additionally, starting August 5 all company-operated store partners are required, regardless of vaccination status, to wear facial coverings while on shift."

Meanwhile, McDonald's has taken similar steps, also altering its mask policy in light of the CDC announcement. America's biggest burger chain originally required masks at all of its U.S. locations in August of 2020. That policy was eased in May in line with the CDC update. But last week, nearly a year after its first nationwide mask mandate, McDonald's once again said they would make masks mandatory — even for vaccinated customers — in areas with high or substantial transmission.

At a time when America's mask policies have not only been a patchwork of differing state and local rules but also been continually changing in many areas based on local data, the policies at national restaurant chains would seem to be one of the broadest indicators of where the country is headed — and for now, at least, it would seem masks are going back on.