After the US went into lockdown in response to COVID-19, the states were left to develop their own safety protocols for individuals and businesses. With no federal guidance to look to, all 50 states created unique plans to reopen their economies based on a combination of CDC, WHO, and OSHA best practices. Under those plans, almost all businesses are now permitted to reopen safely across the country. 

However, states are relying on businesses complying with their industry-specific COVID guidelines to keep case rates down so they can advance to new phases of economic reopening. In the case of a few states, such as California, Texas, Illinois, and Michigan, their governors have had to reverse some of their reopening guidelines due to an increase in case rates, with most changes related to indoor dining and customer capacities.

Staying ahead of evolving COVID work requirements is critical for local businesses, not only to keep state case rates low, but also to keep their businesses open and to support their employees. To help businesses understand what’s expected of them, the team at Opus has identified trends we’re seeing in COVID requirements by state.

COVID requirements by state

Our team reviewed the COVID guidelines published by each state authority. The following trends are based on the requirements  for “all businesses,” which are the minimum requirements for any businesses or for those that do not fit into one clear industry sector. We also looked at the COVID requirements by state for dining at restaurants. All data was collected in September 2020.

All states require employees and customers to maintain social distancing of at least six feet, and all states but Georgia require employees to wear masks in the workplace. 86% of states also require customers to wear masks when they are on their premises. In addition, all states will permit some indoor dining by the end of September, with New York being the last state to adopt this. From there, the COVID work requirements vary state-by-state.

Customer health requirements
The majority of states do not require businesses to enforce additional health and safety protocols for customers beyond wearing a mask and maintaining distance.

  • 6% of states require businesses to check customers’ temperatures before they can enter select businesses.

  • 14% of states require customers to report illness before or after entering a business.

  • 26% of states require businesses to have contact tracing plans in place, and therefore to collect customer information.

Employee health requirements
The COVID work requirements for employees are more comprehensive. The majority of states have employee health and safety protocols in place that require action on the part of both employer and employee.

  • 50% of states require businesses to check employees’ temperatures before they can enter the workplace or start their shift.

  • 60% of states require businesses to provide PPE to their employees.

  • 78%  of states require businesses to provide a COVID training program for their employees.
  • 80% of states require employees to report illness before or after coming to work or starting their shift.
  • 80% of states require businesses to enforce regular employee health screening for COVID-19 symptoms. 

Indoor dining requirements
Restaurants and bars have seen the most iterations to their industry guidelines since March, with the most recent changes a result of indoor dining opening across the country. All states require restaurants to maintain social distancing between parties, and some states have party size limitations of between 6 and 10 individuals.

  • Capacity limits range from 25% of normal capacity all the way to 75%. The median indoor dining capacity is 50%.

  • States with strict guidelines: Michigan does not permit indoor dining in six of its eight regions, but permits up to 50% capacity in the remaining two. Illinois and New Mexico limit indoor dining capacity to 25%, as does California for 60% of its counties and New York for New York City.

  • States with relaxed guidelines: Texas allows up to 75% of indoor dining capacity, while Rhode Island allows 66%. Virginia has a limitation of 250 patrons indoors, assuming social distancing is maintained.

COVID compliance and citations

The majority of states rely on the good faith of businesses to follow the COVID work requirements for their industry. Some states, such as Illinois, Maine, and Connecticut, ask that employers or business owners self-certify that they will adhere to their requirements through an online survey. Connecticut is the only state that we researched that publishes which businesses have completed their self certification

Still, businesses are receiving COVID citations at alarmingly high rates. These citations are typically not discovered by health and safety administrators, but have been the result of complaints called in by customers, passersby, and even employees. While businesses are doing their best to do the right thing, they are increasingly struggling to keep up with the latest guidance and understand what the requirements mean in practice for their business. 

With fines for noncompliance ranging from $50 per violation in Kentucky to up to $10,000 per violation in New York, these COVID citations can seriously harm a business, especially if they are already operating at lower than normal capacity levels. 

With concerns mounting about the fall and winter cold season, businesses could see states continue to change their COVID work guidelines as more people move indoors and if case rates increase again.

Employee training

While 78% of states require COVID training programs for their employees, businesses in all states must ensure their employees understand new sanitation requirements and can identify COVID-19 symptoms to keep their customers and colleagues safe.

However, US businesses face challenges in delivering this training and education. More than 50 million people are classified as frontline employees and have limited access to computers or scheduling flexibility for group training. Based on Opus’s training data, 25% of those employees do not speak English as a first language.

Opus has developed in-depth COVID training programs, which are updated regularly based on the latest OSHA, CDC, and WHO guidelines. All Opus training is delivered over chat and is offered in multiple languages so that businesses can support their hourly workers and ensure high levels of accessibility and compliance.

COVID has already had a skewed impact on businesses with hourly workforces. Nearly 100,000 small businesses have closed since March according to data from Yelp. Restaurants had the highest closure rate at 32,000 businesses shuttered, followed by retail with 30,000, and then salons, bars, and fitness.

By staying on top of the changes to state COVID requirements, our team is able to release new course content as needed so that businesses can rest assured they are meeting or exceeding their state's requirements at all times. We are also proud to offer our employee COVID training free to all independent restaurants, which have disproportionately been impacted by the pandemic. 

We built this COVID training program to support businesses so they can safely and successfully stay in business throughout the pandemic, and we believe that proper education at all levels of a business’s workforce will help both employees and customers stay safe.

For more information about COVID requirements by state, visit our website: