A customer in Texas enters a store with a face mask required sign. Although nearly a fifth of U.S. states don't require people to wear masks to protect against Covid-19, some small businesses are requiring employees and customers to be masked on their premises. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)

Corrine Hendrickson makes the children in her daycare wear masks. She has been requiring masking since last year.

A daycare provider in New Glarus, Wisconsin, Hendrickson has instituted rules in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, not only for the current eight children in her care, but also for her two children who help her after school, and for the parents who come to pick up their children.

For her, and for them, it is masks at all times while indoors.

A new study from the Small Business Majority has found that more than one in four small businesses (28%) are requiring their employees to get vaccinated and to wear masks. Similarly, about a quarter of all small businesses surveyed are requiring customers to wear masks at all times. 

According to an Inc. magazine analysis, more than 98% of the roughly 5.8 million businesses in America, not counting farms, are small businesses. The magazine estimated that 1.1 million of those small businesses were in rural areas and small towns, or about one in five. 

Even when there are no mask mandates in their state or municipality, the Small Business Majority survey found, small businesses are requiring customers to wear masks. It showed that 23% of the small businesses are requiring mask wearing for unvaccinated customers.

Twenty-five percent of those small businesses surveyed said they would require their customers to wear a mask at all times, and 23% said they would only require customers who are not fully vaccinated to wear a mask. Nearly half (45%) said they would leave it up to the customer.

Hendrickson has changed much of the way that she runs her Corrine’s Little Explorers Family Child Care, moving much of the time the children spend with her outdoors.  

“Parents have to show me their vaccinations card in order to not wear their masks at drop-off and pick-up,” she said. “And if any other family members will pick up or drop off … the same rule applies to them. They have to wear masks, or they have to show me their cards.”

Parents from New Glarus, a town of about 2,200, who entrust their children with Hendrickson seem to appreciate her close scrutiny and safety measures.

“I’ve had to interview some families this year and one of the first things they’ve asked me is ‘What are your policies around Covid?’” Hendrickson said. “Once I told them, every one of them has said ‘Thank you.’ I haven’t had anybody tell me that they don’t want to bring their kids here because I require masks or anything like that.”

One-third of the small businesses (34%) said they would continue to ask their customers to mask up even if a state or local mask mandate ended. When it came to having their employees vaccinated, 70% said they would not require it, according to the study

But Hendrickson and those like her who require masks, are in the minority.

She said that small businesses in her town are split on masking. Some, she said, have signs asking people to mask, while others require it and still others don’t care. The problem they face, she said, is not only enforcing the mask requirements but risking backlash from the vocal minority of people who don’t want to wear masks.

Losing customers for rural businesses right now could be a bankrupting proposition.

But more than a third of the small businesses didn’t know that federal law would grant a tax credit to employers who provide full pay for their employees who take time off to get and recover from a Covid-19 vaccination. In June, the National Rural Business Summit recommended that employers should offer paid time off to employees to get the vaccine.

Over 100,000 small businesses closed permanently due to Covid-19 in 2020, a trend that could increase if communities are forced into another shutdown as Covid-19 infections rise across the country. Losing those small businesses in rural communities, experts say, could spell disaster for small towns.

According to the Brookings Institute, small businesses make up the majority of jobs for rural residents. In its report “Why Main Streets are a key driver of equitable economic recovery in rural America,” the think tank found that only 5 percent of the rural workforce is employed by agriculture, while only 15% is employed by manufacturing.

Saving small businesses in rural areas, the report found, was central to ensuring the progress and livelihood of rural communities.

“Research suggests that as an alternative to traditional industry, rural areas can benefit from fostering a vibrant small business and entrepreneurship ecosystem, as rural small businesses have been found to generate wealth that stays in the community, build local leadership, and even contribute to population health,” the report said.

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