California workplace regulators are set to reconsider controversial masking rules designed to protect employees from coronavirus – requirements that business organizations say will make it harder for them to operate when the state fully opens its economy next week. A “special meeting” of the California Workforce Safety and Health Board was quickly scheduled for Wednesday, after state health officer Dr. Tomás Aragón sent a letter to the panel reiterating the state’s plans to follow federal guidance from next Tuesday. Aragón said the state will remove almost all social distance requirements and release the mask requirement for people who have been vaccinated, while “requiring facial coatings for all unvaccinated people in indoor public spaces and businesses.”
California workplace regulators are set to reconsider controversial masking rules designed to protect employees from coronavirus – requirements that business organizations say will make it harder for them to operate when the state fully opens its economy next week.
A “special meeting” of the California Workforce Safety and Health Board was hastily scheduled for Wednesday, after state health officer Dr. Tomás Aragón sent a letter to the panel reiterating the state’s plans to follow federal guidance starting next Tuesday.
Aragón said the state will remove almost all social distance requirements and drop the mask requirement for people who have been vaccinated, while “requiring facial coatings for all unvaccinated people in indoor public spaces and businesses.”
This policy contradicts the board’s vote last week to allow workers to go maskless only if every employee in a room is fully vaccinated against coronavirus. The board will consider Aragon’s letter “and take action if appropriate,” said board spokeswoman Erika Monterroza.
Meanwhile, a dozen business groups, including the California Retailers Association and organizations representing producers, farmers, tourism interests and other industries, sent a letter to Gavin Newsom, asking him to immediately issue an emergency order repealing board rules called the Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS)) and set government jobs in line with federal guidelines.
Without such action, the groups said the state’s economy will not reopen completely next week, as Newsom has said.
“Companies will not bring employees back with the level of confusion and uncertainty created by the ETS and the mixed messages from state and local executives,” the letter said.
The groups called the board’s rules “expensive obligations for companies of all sizes, but especially for small businesses that may not have the legal expertise to navigate the confusing and conflicting statements and rules coming from different levels of government.”
Newsom was asked last Friday if he would issue such an order, and he indicated he was reluctant.
On Tuesday, Newsom’s office reiterated its statement from last week: that the administration is “hopeful that the board will revise its guidance to reflect the latest science, while continuing to protect workers and balance realistic and enforceable requirements for employers.”
The rules of the Cal / OSHA Board apply to almost all workplaces in the state, including workers in offices, factories and retail.
Its pandemic rules apply to all employees except those who work from home or where there is a single employee who has no contact with other people.
The board at Wednesday’s meeting was able to withdraw the new rules, which it adopted less than a week ago, because they have not yet come into force, Monterroza said.
But it will at least temporarily leave existing emergency rules, which are even stricter and require all workers to be kept at a distance and masked, even if they are vaccinated.
The board cannot adopt new changes without announcing the proposed revisions and giving the public at least five calendar days notice, she said. It potentially puts further public comment and action at the board’s regularly scheduled June 17 meeting.
Board rules have put Newsom in an awkward position as the state approaches what he promised would be a full reopening and while facing a likely recall election this fall.
The recall was driven by criticism of Newsom’s restrictions on companies and personal activities during the pandemic. His Republican opponents have used the workplace regulations as proof that the Newsom administration continues to rule with too heavy a hand.
Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego city council who wants Newsom recalled, sent an email to supporters Tuesday highlighting an “absurd new mask mandate” that “is not only a disadvantage for workers, but this anti-scientific policies impose significant costs on small businesses and open them up to costly junk lawsuits. “
In their letter to Newsom, the business groups said that masks are required unless everyone is vaccinated in a workplace, “will create yet another barrier to rehabilitation and reopening” at a time when “we need to provide incentives to bring people back.”
The organizations also said that demands for masks for people who have been fully vaccinated could lead the public to believe that the vaccine is not really effective.
“Now more than ever, the state must stand with science and show residents – both customers and employees – that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective and necessary,” the letter said.
Cal / OSHA board members made it clear when they adopted the measures that the regulations are temporary and they appointed a subcommittee to continue the work of audits.
The board said it will hear briefings from the State Department of Public Health and the California Department of Health and Safety at Wednesday’s meeting before considering the “impact of the information presented” on its new rules.
Separately, the state health department has recommended that workers who are not vaccinated be tested once or twice a week, depending on the type of test, if they come into close or frequent contact with the public.
This includes e.g. Those who work in restaurants, public transport, theaters, amusement parks and other areas.
This should also apply to those areas with higher virus transmission rates, the department said, and to high-density workplaces where physical distance is difficult, such as factories or food processing plants.