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California moving toward workplaces without masks: What you need to know

Three people wearing masks take a selfie outside the Getty Center
Bill Mitchell, right, takes a selfie with friends Ron and Malta Tasoff on a visit to the Getty Center last month.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

California took a major step this week to define what COVID-19 workplace safety rules will look like as the pandemic continues to fade.

A state safety board on Thursday recommended relaxing workplace safety rules for people vaccinated against COVID-19 — meaning that, on June 15, employees will probably be able to take off their masks in a room if everyone there is vaccinated.

Here are the details:

What would change?

The rules proposed by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, would allow workers in a room to take off their masks if every person there does not have COVID-19 symptoms and is fully vaccinated, meaning they’re at least two weeks removed from their last dose.

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Masks would still be required if anyone in the room is not fully vaccinated.

Workplaces would need to have workers’ vaccine records on file to comply with Cal/OSHA regulations.

But workers in retail stores and restaurants, as well as others who interact with members of the public, will still need to mask up. Workers in some other settings, such as hospitals, will not be affected by the rule change.

The proposal also calls for ending the requirement that workers be physically distant from other people starting July 31. Until then, employees in indoor settings or outdoor events of 10,000 or more people will need to continue physical-distancing practices or be offered respirators — like N-95 masks — that filter out fine particles in the air.

As the coronavirus fades, there is a growing belief among even the most conservative health experts that it’s fine for vaccinated people to largely shed their face coverings — though it’s still essential for the uninoculated to adhere to mask-wearing and physical distancing rules.

What are the details?

State officials issued the following guidance following Thursday’s vote:

  • Masks: As mentioned earlier, fully vaccinated and symptom-free workers do not need to wear face coverings in a room unless someone there is either symptomatic or not inoculated. Additionally, both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated workers without symptoms do not need to don masks outdoors except when staffing “outdoor mega events” — those where more than 10,000 attendees are present, such as at an events or theme parks. All workers, regardless of their inoculation status, will still need to wear face coverings indoors.
  • Distancing: Under the revised standards, employers can scrap physical distancing requirements and partitions/barriers for employees working indoors and at outdoor mega events if they provide respirators, such as N-95s, to unvaccinated employees for voluntary use. After July 31, physical distancing and barriers will no longer be required, unless there’s an outbreak, but employers will have to provide all unvaccinated employees with N-95s for voluntary use.
  • Exclusion: Workers who are fully vaccinated and symptom-free no longer need to be excluded from the workplace after coming into contact with some with COVID-19.
  • Protections: Special prevention measures no longer apply to employer-provided housing and transportation if all occupants or riders are fully vaccinated.

Employers will also still need to keep a written COVID-19 prevention program, though with some changes:

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  • Employers must review California Department of Public Health guidance related to indoor ventilation, filtration and air quality.
  • Training must now also include information on how COVID-19 vaccines are effective at preventing transmission, illness and death.

    Amid a drop-off in demand for vaccines, Los Angeles County will soon be closing four large-scale vaccination sites and replacing them with smaller ones, officials said.

    What happens next?

    The proposed new standards are still subject to review by the state Office of Administrative Law. Should that office sign off, the rules are expected to go into effect by June 15 — the same day California is set to fully reopen its economy.


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