Sacramento, Calif. – California is set to fully reopen in less than two weeks and will eliminate nearly all mask and social distancing requirements for vaccinated people. But the officials regulating workplaces in the state are not ready to go that far and this has angered business groups.
The rules could remain in place until early next year, even as coronavirus cases in the state have dropped dramatically and more people have been vaccinated.
Recent US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance says fully vaccinated people can now skip face coverings and distancing in almost all situations, and the state is set to follow that recommendation from June 15.
But staff at the State Safety Board say conditions are different among workers, leading to a proposed rule that vaccinated workers also wear masks until everyone else in their workspace has been vaccinated.
The proposed rules set “an inconsistent standard” among members of the public and employees of private and government workplaces, the California Chamber of Commerce and more than five dozen other business organizations said in a letter to the board.
“A fully immunized server might work the lunch shift at a restaurant, leave work, go home, change their uniform, and then have dinner with their family or friends at the same restaurant in the evening. can go out and do not need to wear a mask, even though they had to wear a mask earlier in the day while at work,” said Katie Hansen, senior legislative director for the California Restaurant Association.
Safety board staff member Eric Berg said the proposed rules incorporate the latest scientific evidence and have been reviewed and endorsed by the state’s Department of Public Health.
Berg said they recognize the larger gap between employees and the public, with employees having “longer-term cumulative risks” in the workplace than casual social contact.
Berg said allowing some to wear masks and letting others go without masks would create significant enforcement issues for employers and Cal/OSHA.
The Cal/OSHA rules being considered by the board apply to nearly every workplace in the state. Its pandemic rules apply to all employees except those working from home or where there is a single employee who has no contact with other people.
“A very large proportion of California employees will remain without vaccination until June 15, 2021,” the staff said in its recommendation. “Because of changes in social norms, due to the decline in wearing of masks and physical distancing among fully vaccinated people, those precautions are likely to decline even among non-vaccinated and partially vaccinated people.”
Yet unvaccinated workers would be particularly at risk from more contagious coronavirus variants, the employees argued.
Business groups are upset that employees did not reduce their masking recommendation during the two-week delay as the board postponed its consideration while its staff reviewed CDC guidelines.
“Calosha is out of step with the rest of the country,” said Andrew Somer, on behalf of the California Employers COVID-19 Prevention Coalition.
“For the state to reopen in less than two weeks, “we need workplaces to be able to operate under normal conditions,” said Melissa Patack, vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America.
State health officials said Thursday that more than 17.5 million of California’s nearly 40 million residents have been fully vaccinated, and the positivity rate for the virus is 0.9%.
While most speakers at the hearing opposed the proposed rules, they were supported by unions representing teamsters, machinists, utility workers, engineers and school workers.
“Workplace outbreaks are still happening,” said Maggie Robbins, occupational health expert at WorkSafe Inc., an Oakland-based activist advocacy group, noting that most Californians are not fully vaccinated.
“Workplace is not like having a dinner party or deciding to go to the gym or go to a movie,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to be done before we have a sufficiently immune population where we can relax more controls.”
Employers organizations were also critical of a proposed rule that from July 31 would require employers to provide the most effective N95 masks for voluntary use by employees who work indoors or at large outdoor events and are not fully vaccinated. We do.
It would require employers to track workers’ vaccination status and stockpile masks in competition with health care workers and as the state’s wildfire season heats up.
Cal/OSHA’s Berg said the masks used should be the most effective N95 respirators because “workers are close to each other for long periods of time” and they need the best protection from the virus.