Here comes mask confusion!

If you think you know everything about face coverings during the pandemic, just ride a hotel elevator

If you're not confused yet about mask requirements, just take a trip. You will be.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued new guidance for vaccinated Americans. If you've received your shots, the government says you can participate in outdoor activities and recreation without a mask, except in certain crowded settings and venues.

In Sarasota, Fla., where I was staying at the Embassy Suites, people peeled off their face coverings almost immediately — outside and inside the hotel. 

Ahh, freedom! 

But don't try that at a Disney theme park. As I recently reported, you have to mask up indoors and outdoors at the Happiest Place on Earth, regardless of your vaccination status. Or at a TSA screening area. Last week, the agency extended its mask requirement until Sept. 13.

And that's not even the confusing part. There are so many gray areas where masks may or may not be necessary, that travelers are bewildered. Ride a hotel elevator if you don't believe me. 

There's only one solution, but I guarantee that half of my readers aren't going to like it.

🎧 EXTRA: Listen to the podcast version of this commentary.

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Don't let the elevator break you down

Hotel elevators are the worst because you're stuck in a confined space with strangers for a few tense minutes. That's when the confusion becomes obvious.

"We don't do masks"

I boarded an elevator at the Beachside Hotel & Suites in Cocoa Beach, Fla., last week. I'm fully vaccinated, but I wear a mask indoors when required. The hotel has a mask requirement, so I wore one. A couple without masks approached the open elevator but then backed away. 

"We'll take the next one," the man said. "We don't do masks." 

Don't do masks? Hang on. If I'm wearing a mask, won't that protect them? And if they're so concerned about their health, why don't they wear a mask?

Two guests per elevator

Several days later, at the Courtyard Cocoa Beach Cape Canaveral, a sign limited elevator ridership to two people. Almost everyone ignored it. The ones who didn't were confused when people piled into the elevator — some wearing masks, some not.

"Are you vaccinated?"

When my son rode the elevator to his room on the 13th floor at the Embassy Suites in Sarasota, a woman boarded without a mask. She apologized to the other guests, all of whom wore face coverings. Then she asked each one about their vaccine status. All were vaccinated. 

"Good," she said. "I feel a little better." 

Huh? 

How does she know everyone is telling the truth? And why should she feel better? After all, she's not wearing a mask.

"I forgot my mask, I hope you don't mind"

The next day, another elevator scene: A guest at the hotel stepped into a crowded elevator sans mask. As the elevator door closed, he announced, "I forgot my mask, I hope you don't mind." By the time any of us had time to think about it, we were already on our way. That confused the other guests. What were they supposed to do, stop the elevator and kick him off?

This is insanity. I think people are quizzing each other about their vaccine status, avoiding each other or not avoiding each other because they're confused. Should we wear masks? And if so, where? 

Unless the pandemic magically disappears overnight, this will be the big question for travelers this summer.

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I have the answer, but you probably won't like it

Here's the problem with the new mask recommendations: They just muddy the water, which is already pretty muddy.

The CDC's edict is convoluted and difficult to understand. It doesn't apply to everyone. So if you see someone outdoors without a mask, you might assume they're vaccinated or otherwise exempt. But there's no easy way to determine someone's vaccination status. 

The solution is simple — but controversial.

This summer, when in doubt, wear a mask.

First of all, definitely in an elevator. If you can't or won't, then take the stairs.

Wear a mask outside if you're on private property like a restaurant or theme park, unless you're allowed to go maskless. Even if you don't believe in masks, or COVID-19, or the results of the 2020 election. My kids watched someone getting escorted from a Disney park for refusing to wear a mask last week. It's just not worth it.

If there's a situation where you think you might need to wear a mask, wear one. That includes while you wait for a table in a restaurant (yes, wear a mask — you can take it off at the table). That also includes the bathroom (in a public restroom, especially). And it includes any outdoor area where people are congregating. Yes, even if you've received both vaccines.

I knew you wouldn't like it

I know some of you aren't going to like my new mask mandate. Based on your reaction to last week's edition of Elliott Confidential, some of you will angrily unsubscribe.

But you can thank me later. The Disney mask confrontation wasn't the only one we saw. There have been other times when total strangers have demanded that someone mask up (fortunately, never one of us). You can see the face-covering melees on YouTube. Do you really want to become the next viral video and have your summer vacation ruined? 

So even if you don't believe COVID-19 exists, just humor the people around you by wearing a mask. You can express your opinion when you vote or in the comments section, whichever is more convenient.

Like I've said, this is going to be a weird summer for travel. The mask rules are confusing enough. And wait until the vaccine requirements start to kick in later. But that's another story. 

Are you also confused by the conflicting mask requirements? Do you plan to wear a mask when you travel this summer, and if so, where? If not, why not?

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