UPDATED with latest: California updated its masking guidance yet again on Wednesday. The news comes after a series of confusing announcements on the subject from state and federal officials and just hours before another announcement that may supersede the guidance issued by state officials.
The guidance issued Wednesday by the California Department of Public Health says that, beginning June 15, fully-vaccinated people will be able to resume everyday activities without wearing a mask. Masks will be required for unvaccinated individuals in indoor public settings and businesses. Masks will also be required in some limited situations regardless of vaccination status. Those exceptions include public transit, schools and childcare centers (pending updated CDC guidance), healthcare and long-term care facilities, prisons, and emergency or homeless shelters.
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But there’s an asterisk.
In workplaces, employers are subject to the mandates issued by The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), better known as Cal/OSHA and its Covid-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) or the CalOSHA Aerosol Transmissible Diseases Standard. Those standards have not yet been finalized, even though Governor Gavin Newsom announced the state will reopen next Tuesday.
A special Cal/OSHA Standards Board meeting will take place Wednesday night to discuss the just-announced guidance from the CA Department of Public Health. It is that board’s decision which will mandate business requirements, not the public health department’s new guidance.
California Health and Human Services Director Dr. Mark Ghaly reportedly said on Wednesday that the state’s new guidance is not meant to push the board in one way or another in its decision on required masking for employees. It is simply meant to explain the administration’s position with regard to the CDC guidance. But the timing of the release — just hours before the Cal/OSHA board meets — seems curious. It is, at the very least, likely confusing for California residents and businesspeople trying to make plans more than seven days out.
According to the new state guidance, in settings where masks are required only for unvaccinated individuals, businesses, venue operators or hosts are allowed to:
-Allow vaccinated individuals to self-attest that they are in compliance prior to entry
-Implement vaccine verification to determine whether individuals are required to wear a mask
-Require all patrons to wear masks
One important caveat: The CA guidance states that “No person can be prevented from wearing a mask as a condition of participation in an activity or entry into a business.”
There are some individuals who are exempt from wearing masks, regardless of vaccination status. They include:
-Persons younger than two years old
-Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a mask
-Persons who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication
-Persons for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines
PREVIOUSLY on June 1: Early last month, Governor Gavin Newsom assured Californians that masks were soon going away for fully-vaccinated residents. Asked by a reporter if there would be a mask mandate after June 15, the usually-loquacious Newsom said quickly, “No.” He then enumerated a few rare circumstances where masks would still be needed.
The following day, the Governor qualified his assurance saying, “For indoor activities we still will have, likely, some mask mandates. But the hope is those will be lifted sooner rather than later.”
That Newsom got out over his skis is understandable. He’s facing a recall election and, like the rest of us, trying to interpret conflicting signals from the CDC and President Biden.
But a committee charged with recommending Covid safety measures to the CA Occupational Safety and Health Standards (CalOSHA) Board, advises in a new draft document that masking in the workplace should continue after June 15.
The document says, in part, that “Employers shall provide face coverings and ensure they are worn by employees over the nose and mouth when indoors, when outdoors and less than six feet away from another person…” The primary exceptions to this rule would be “When an employee is alone in a room, or when all persons in a room are fully vaccinated and do not have Covid-19 symptoms,” or while “Employees [are] wearing respirators…”
The upshot of those strictures would be that unvaccinated employees would need to wear masks while at work. Also, the presence of one unvaccinated person in a room full of otherwise vaccinated employees would mean everyone has to don a mask. Employers may also be required to track who is vaccinated and who is not. Talk about peer pressure.
Additionally, CDC guidance issued this weekend advises unvaccinated people to wear masks “anytime you are indoors or outdoors with people who don’t live with you.”
As for physical distancing, the CA recommendations say that, through July 31, 2022 “all employees shall be separated from other persons by at least six feet” unless respirators are being worn.
There is no suggested end date on the CA mask recommendations. They will be discussed at a meeting of the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board Thursday morning. The seven members of that panel are appointed by Governor Newsom.