California to consider ending some workplace mask requirements
A California workplace safety board on Thursday is scheduled to consider whether to relax mask and physical distancing rules for workers.
The proposal would allow workers in a room to take off masks if everyone in a room is fully vaccinated and do not have COVID-19 symptoms. Masks would still be required if anyone in a room was not fully vaccinated, according to the proposal.
“Vaccinated persons are at lower risk for COVID-19 infection and transmission,” officials wrote. “In mixed groups of vaccinated and unvaccinated people, however, unvaccinated employees would be at risk without the use of face coverings indoors.”
The plan also states that, until July 31, employees in indoor settings or outdoor events of 10,000 or more people must continue to either physically distance from others or be given the option to wear respirators — like an N95 respirator — for voluntary use.
N95 respirators are designed to filter out 95% of very small particles in the air when properly worn.
The proposal, drafted by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, will be discussed at a meeting of the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, whose seven members are appointed by the governor. The meeting begins at 10 a.m. Thursday.
If the board approves the proposal, it will be sent to the state Office of Administrative Law, which will have 10 days to decide on the proposal.
The proposal is similar to the one the board was set to consider on May 20 but decided to postpone taking action on.
In practice, the proposal would dramatically change how offices could function if no guests are allowed and everyone in a room has been fully vaccinated, which means two weeks have passed since a person’s final vaccine dose. An employer would need to have documentation of a worker’s vaccination records on file.
But the proposal also likely means that California workers in places like stores and restaurants — and who interact with members of the public — will still need to mask up for the foreseeable future even after June 15, when the state is set to lift mask requirements for vaccinated people in most settings. (People will still be required under a federal order to wear masks when taking public transport after June 15, such as on planes, airports, buses, trains and transit stations.)
The proposal also states that workers must generally be allowed to wear masks if they choose to continue wearing one, even if it’s not required.
Existing rules require workers to wear masks and practice physical distancing unless they’re alone — either in a room or outside. Workers can remove masks when eating or drinking but must be physically distant from others. Existing rules in California also generally require everyone, such as members of the public in a store, to wear masks in indoor public settings.
Local governments and stores are free to impose stricter mask requirements if they wish. L.A. County has signaled it will align with California’s standards on June 15.
There is growing scientific consensus that COVID-19 vaccines are extraordinarily effective, and there is generally low risk that a fully vaccinated person — even if unmasked — will get infected with the coronavirus from an unvaccinated, unmasked person, especially when rates of daily coronavirus cases are low.
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