California Could Ease Mask Rules For Fully Vaccinated Workers This Week

Fully vaccinated workers in California may be able to remove masks at work this week if a state safety board approves a proposal by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board is poised on Thursday to approve a plan written by Cal/OSHA that would allow most fully vaccinated workers in many workplaces to stop wearing masks and end physical distancing requirements for all workers. (The relaxed rules would not apply in places such as healthcare settings, which are regulated by tougher criteria.)

Unvaccinated workers would still be required to wear masks in indoor public settings and would be able to take off masks indoors generally only if they’re alone or eating and drinking.

Normally, it would take at least 10 days before such a plan would go into effect, pending a review by the state Office of Administrative Law, meaning the earliest that change could occur would be on June 28. But on Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a news conference that if the board approves the Cal/OSHA proposal, he would enact an executive order to make those changes immediately, effective on the same day the board takes action.

Until recently, Cal/OSHA and the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board have come under criticism for initially passing rules that would still require even vaccinated workers to wear masks at workplaces if even just one unvaccinated person or someone whose vaccination status is unknown enters the room.

Cal/OSHA staff had defended its proposal because, they said, it would be easier to enforce a universal mask-wearing policy if there were some workers in a room who were unvaccinated. They said it would be hard for employers to just make sure unvaccinated people were wearing masks.

That plan was criticized as being at odds with the new mask rules, written by the state Department of Public Health, that go in effect for the general population on Tuesday. Those rules generally allow fully vaccinated people to stop wearing masks in almost all situations in public. (Vaccinated people will still have to wear masks on public transportation, including airports and airplanes, schools, healthcare settings, jails and shelters.)

Amid an outcry, the state safety standards board rescinded its tougher rules last week and signaled it would back rules that would allow vaccinated workers to stop wearing masks.

Some infectious disease experts have said that at some point, unvaccinated workers need to take responsibility for not being vaccinated, and wear a mask to protect themselves.

Cal/OSHA’s latest proposal would also end the requirement to install the cleanable solid partitions designed to reduce viral transmission through the air — like the clear plastic barriers that separate customers and cashiers.

In addition, the proposal calls for employers to maximize the amount of fresh outside air that comes into the building.

Under the proposal, workplaces would be required to provide masks to workers who are not fully vaccinated, and ensure that they wear them when they are indoors or in vehicles. The proposal would require employers to provide respirators — like N95 masks that filter out tiny particles from the air — to employees not yet fully vaccinated if they request them.


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