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Vaccinated or not, strict mask mandate likely to continue past June 15 in workplaces

Cal/OSHA releases updated standards ahead of vote
Posted at 4:40 PM, May 31, 2021

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Despite plans to ease pandemic restrictions June 15, the state agency in charge of workplace safety is considering new rules that could effectively extend California’s mask mandate on workers until next year, even if they are vaccinated.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, released revised standards Friday ahead of a vote June 3.

Under the proposal, businesses would be allowed to loosen certain 6-foot physical distancing requirements July 31, not June 15. Plexiglass partitions at cash registers and other locations would have to remain in place until July 31.

However, Cal/OSHA would only allow employees to remove their masks indoors once everyone around them is verifiably vaccinated, said employment law attorney Dan Eaton.

“Getting absolute perfection with respect to full and complete vaccination is going to be very difficult,” he said.
Eaton said the face covering requirements for employees do not sunset July 31.

If adopted, vaccinated employees could ditch their masks outdoors. But indoors, employees would be required to wear face coverings with only limited exceptions, such as when they are in a room entirely of vaccinated people.

Businesses will have to keep documentation of workers’ vaccine status on file. If there’s any potential for an unvaccinated coworker or customer to walk in, the masks will have to remain on, Eaton said.

Cal/OSHA said it “would be impossible to enforce” different mask policies for vaccinated and unvaccinated workers indoors “in a constant, consistent manner.”

“The bottom line is that masks are going to have to remain in place, generally speaking,” Eaton said. “[Masks] are going to continue to be in the workplace, even for fully vaccinated employees who are working alongside unvaccinated employees, into January.”

Cal/OSHA’s temporary emergency standards would remain in effect until early next year, even as COVID-19 cases plummet.

As of Friday, the state’s infection rate remained less than 1 percent. More than 17 million of California’s 40 million residents are fully vaccinated.

Some business groups say the rules could encourage employers to group vaccinated workers into one section of a building, while keeping unvaccinated people or those with unknown status in another.

Cal/OSHA was on track to vote on workplace safety regulations earlier in May but withdrew them so regulators could review new mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Several business groups said they were surprised by the re-drafted regulations, since they don’t align with CDC guidance that vaccinated people are safe to shed masks indoors.

Cal/OSHA’s updated regulations would also change the definition of an acceptable face covering in the workplace.

Workers would no longer be allowed to wear bandanas, scarves, ski masks or anything that is a single layer of fabric.

Employers would have to provide higher-quality masks or respirators at no charge.