Workplace regulators approve new rules contradicting June 15 reopening
Cal/OSHA — the state’s workplace regulators — approved seemingly contradictory rules Thursday night that California workers must continue to wear masks in buildings for the foreseeable future, and they can only take them off if every employee in the room has gotten their COVID-19 vaccine.
However, this clashes with both the state Public Health guidance and guidance from the CDC. On June 15, the state plans to fully reopen in less than two weeks and do away with nearly all mask and social distancing requirements for vaccinated individuals, according to Associated Press reporting. June 15 is when these Cal/OSHA mask mandates would go into effect. If the rules aren’t revised, they could remain in place into early next year.
Cal/OSHA’s rules would apply to all employees and places of employment in California, except for work locations with one employee who doesn’t have contact with anyone else, employees working from home, employees with occupational exposure and employees teleworking from a location of their choice, not under the control of the employer.
Employers would need to have workers’ vaccine records on file to comply with regulations. In addition, workers in places such as retail stores and restaurants — any employees who interact with members of the public — must be masked at all times.
Leaders of workforce associations have pointed out contradictions with the guidance. Namely, a waiter or waitress must wear a mask while they’re working at the restaurant, but could return later off the clock and be totally maskless.
The new guidelines waive the requirement that employees must be physically distanced, but not until July 31. Until then, they must either physically distance themselves or be offered N95 masks, which drew concern from members of the board who claimed N95 masks would then be stockpiled and unavailable to the health care providers who need them.
Reporters asked Gov. Gavin Newsom about the sudden rule change at a press conference Friday that was originally scheduled to discuss vaccine incentives.
“The dust is settling,” the California governor said when reporters questioned him on the matter. “They’ve got a subcommittee that’s going to be meeting to follow up some of the work. We’re pleased they made progress moving in the right direction.”
He said that if the board had not acted Thursday night, the physical distancing requirements “would not have been augmented,” but they now have.
“Look, I’m mindful this disease has not been extinguished. It hasn’t gone away,” Gov. Newsom said. “… We’ve never said that we were not going to consider some modifications post-June 15. Let me be specific. We’ve been very forthright in terms of modifications for large, indoor settings with a lot of folks from different backgrounds, walks of life, people coming internationally, etc.”
The governor told reporters that over the course of the next few days or months, the state will “unfold” with updates and recommendations, including “less mandates, more encouragement, more incentives and more resources.” He added, “The blueprint as we know it, the color coding, the tiers as we know it, will be removed and for average citizens, for the public people like myself, that want to go about doing business.”
The California Department of Public Health did not answer questions from the News-Press regarding what needs to happen in order for mask mandates to go away or why the guidance is stricter than CDC recommendations.
Dr. Henning Ansorg, the Santa Barbara County public health officer, told the News-Press Friday that it is safe to not wear a mask outdoors, except for crowded events, “given that we have only minimal SARS-CoV2 transmission in California and in Santa Barbara County.”
“Indoor masking may still be wise for persons with weak immune systems,” Dr. Ansorg said. “In particular, non-vaccinated persons should consider wearing a mask when in shared indoor spaces.”
He added that the recommendations are being given during a time of minimal virus transmission.
Dr. Ansorg said, “If we were to experience a significant increase in cases, Public Health would consider reinstating a general masking mandate.”