California finally has rules for returning to the office. Here is what they are
Fully vaccinated employees in most workplaces can now stop wearing masks in their places of employment.
California finally has rules for the return to offices as the COVID-19 pandemic eases.
The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board approved the guidance Thursday, and Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order almost immediately after the decision to allow the revisions to take effect without the typical 10-day waiting period and review by the state Office of Administrative Law.
Here are the basics:
Fully vaccinated employees in most workplaces can now stop wearing masks in their places of employment. Exceptions include in transit hubs; healthcare settings and long-term-care facilities; K-12 schools, child-care facilities or other youth settings; homeless shelters, emergency shelters and cooling centers; and correctional facilities and detention centers.
Unvaccinated workers will still be required to wear face coverings while indoors or in shared workplace vehicles or employer-provided transportation. Generally, they will be able to take off their masks indoors only if they’re alone or eating or drinking.
Workplaces will still be required to provide masks to workers who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Employers also will have to provide a respirator such as an N95 mask if an employee who is not yet fully vaccinated requests one.
The approved standards also do away with requirements for solid, cleanable partitions designed to reduce viral transmission, such as the plastic barriers that separate customers and cashiers.
Employers have to document the vaccination status of employees if they’re going to go without face coverings indoors, but businesses do not have to retain copies of vaccine cards and employees can also self-attest to their inoculation status.
There was much debate about the relaxed guidance, even until the last minute:
UNIONS: Some workers and representatives from labor groups warned that the danger posed by COVID-19 has not yet passed and that rules that might make sense for the public at large can’t simply be applied wholesale to worksites, where employees often cluster in close quarters for extended periods of time.
Mitch Steiger, senior legislative advocate for the California Labor Federation, said largely removing the mask mandate was essentially pretending “that the pandemic is over” at a time when many Californians have yet to be fully vaccinated and worrisome coronavirus variants are circulating.
BUSINESSES: Business representatives said any requirement to provide N95 masks would be unduly onerous and objected to the idea that they should be required to confirm their employees’ vaccination status or enforce the rules that come with that determination.
MASKS: Some opposed the mask rules, saying they effectively forced people to wear a “scarlet letter” advertising their private medical decisions. Others went so far as to decry any face-covering requirement as tantamount to discrimination or segregation and said the rules made no meaningful accommodation for those who had not been vaccinated but had natural immunity from a previous coronavirus infection.
Why are officials optimistic about California’s reopening?
COVID-19 IN RETREAT: At its peak in January, the state was reporting 45,000 coronavirus cases a day. Now, California is reporting an average of fewer than 1,000 new coronavirus cases per day, according to data compiled by The Times.
The last time case counts were lower was March 31, 2020 — when the pandemic was just beginning to roar to life and testing was so limited that many infections likely went undetected.
VACCINES: In California, nearly 57% of residents of all ages — and 72% of adults — have received at least one dose of vaccine. In total, 14 states and the District of Columbia now have at least 70% of their adults at least partially vaccinated, achieving a U.S.-wide goal President Biden had set with a July 4 target date.
The biggest concern now for many officials is persuading people who have not been vaccinated to get their shots. California remains short of the level of vaccine coverage — usually estimated between 70% and 85% — believed necessary to achieve “herd immunity.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.