Newsom Says He Will End Mask Requirement For Vaccinated Workers As Long As Safety Board Agrees- Updated

UPDATED with latest: California Governor Gavin Newsom said on Monday that he is prepared to issue an executive order later this week to immediately implement a loosening of work-site mask-wearing regulations if, that is, the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board approves them on Thursday.

Under normal procedures, the board’s decision would have to be reviewed by state attorneys and wouldn’t take effect until the end of the month. Newsom’s executive order would close that gap and immediately implement the rules later this week. Of course, the governor himself set June 15 – Tuesday – as the date for the loosening of restrictions.

Newsom hinted several times last week — see previous updates below — that he expects the board’s ruling to comport with the state’s already-announced guidelines. Of course, having state guidelines released before the board makes its ruling and also having the state “reopen” before mask-at-work rules are official is more than a bit chaotic. Also crazy-making have been the multiple masking announcements and walk-backs by the safety board and the governor himself over the past month. For more on those, see the multiple previous updates below.

Cal/OSHA officials on Friday released the proposed new workplace rules, which largely align with state mask-wearing guidance for the general public. The rules would require businesses to verify workers’ vaccination status and make masks available to unvaccinated workers. Vaccinated workers would not be required to wear masks in the workplace under the proposed rules.

Some business owners and associations have pushed back at the idea of employers being required to verify workers’ vaccination status. Newsom said last week that California would not be implementing any kind of electronic vaccine passport.

With the statewide lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, questions have persisted about requirements for mask-wearing. Newsom on Monday warned that the move away from economic restrictions does not mean mask-wearing will go away, nor will the pandemic.

“I want to encourage people, and I think this question highlights the importance of the ongoing work,” Newsom said. “We’re not done. This is not spiking the football tomorrow (Tuesday). It’s not mission accomplished tomorrow. This virus is not going away tomorrow. This pandemic is not behind us tomorrow. We’re very mindful that already in 2021, globally, more people have lost their lives to Covid than the entire year 2020.”

California’s mask-wearing guidance for the general public startingTuesday will align largely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. The guidance will allow fully vaccinated people to stop wearing masks in most situations. But they will still be required in certain settings:

– On public transit, including airplanes, ships, trains, buses, taxis and ride-hailing vehicles, and in transportation hubs such as airports, but terminals, train stations, seaports, marinas and subway stations;


-Indoors at K-12 schools, child-care facilities and other youth settings;


-Health-care settings, including long-term care facilities;


-At state and local correctional facilities and detention centers; and


-At homeless shelters, emergency shelters and cooling centers.

Masks will be required for unvaccinated people in indoor public settings and businesses such as retail stores, restaurants, theaters, movie theaters, family entertainment centers and government offices serving the public.

Business and event-venue operators can choose how to enforce those rules. According to the state, they have three options:

-Businesses and venues can publicly post rules regarding mask-wearing and allow customers and visitors to “self-attest” that they are vaccinated, meaning if someone enters the business without a mask they are attesting to being vaccinated;


-They can “implement a vaccine-verification system to determine whether individuals are required to wear a mask”


-They can simply require all patrons to wear a mask.

Disneyland changed its park policy on Monday such that, starting Tuesday, it would not require masks for those self-attesting to vaccination.

Newsom recognized the issues with “self-attestation,” which essentially is an honor system, but said people “we hope will be honest about that.” But he stressed businesses can continue to mandate that all customers wear masks.

“Businesses can continue to make choices for themselves, what works for your business,” he said. “We’re not going to mandate passports, but businesses can require verification. Businesses can require mask-wearing. Businesses have the freedom of choice across the spectrum.

“You’re going to be in a scenario where a lot of people are going to be wearing masks — because they choose to wear masks, because businesses make requirements as it relates to masking,” he said. “We’re not where we all want to be, which is this pandemic completely extinguished. We’re just at the point with…case rates this low — and by the way California has the third-lowest positivity rate in America, and among the lowest case rates in America.”

PREVIOUSLY on June 10 at 11:30 a.m.:California Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Friday that the Standards Board of The Division of Occupational Safety and Health or Cal/OSHA, which sets the rules for masking in the workplace in the state, would release a new set of proposed guidelines on Friday.

“OSHA will be coming out with their updated guidelines today,” said Newsom. “We believe those guidelines will align with the CDC as the CA department of Public Health has.”

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.

The CDPH guidance also says some masking and vaccine verification will remain in place for so-called “mega events,” such as concerts and sports. Newsom said on Friday, however, there would be no electronic vaccine passport system.

In settings where masks are required only for unvaccinated individuals, businesses, venue operators or hosts may choose to provide allow patrons, guests and attendees to self-attest that they are in compliance prior to entry; or implement vaccine verification to determine whether individuals are required to wear a mask; or require all patrons to wear masks. No person can be prevented from wearing a mask as a condition of participation in an activity or entry into a business.

California’s State Public Health Officer, Dr. Tomas Aragon, signed a new health officer order on Friday that eliminates most other masking requirements across the state starting June 15.

Los Angeles County health officials announced on Wednesday that L.A. will align with the State’s masking guidance.

Newsom was seeking to tamp down two weeks’ worth of confusion over conflicting mask announcements from various state entities. The Cal/OSHA Safety Board, which has changed its mind three times in the past few weeks, has final say over workplace rules. Newsom and the state’s top health officer have also made seemingly conflicting declarations.

Even if that board announces newly-planned workplace mask rules on Friday, it cannot officially approve them until its next meeting on Tuesday. Even then, there is supposed to be a 10-day delay before the board’s ruling would go into effect, putting masking rules more than a week behind Newsom’s self-declared June 15 reopening date. The governor indicted on Friday that he intends to make sure the delay will not get in the way of the reopening.

“That needs to be addressed and will be addressed,” said Newsom. I’m very mindful of those gaps and will address them appropriately.”

He also indicated that he was set to order an official end to physical distancing and occupancy restrictions, effective June 15.

“Today officially I’ll be signing two exec orders that will move this state out of the physical distancing and occupancy modifications.”

PREVIOUSLY on June 10 at 10 a.m.: For at least the third time in two weeks, California work safety officials changed their minds on Wednesday about what Covid-19 masking requirements should be at businesses in the state when it reopens next Tuesday. That’s aside from non-binding “guidance” issued by the state’s Department of Public Health on masking in the workplace on Wednesday and forgetting Governor Gavin Newsom’s statement in May that there would be “no” masking mandates — aside from at massive public events — and then walking that assertion back one day later. Confused yet? If you’re not, you’re not listening.

That last line is one of Governor Gavin Newsom’s favorite jokes about his own longwinded and hyper-parenthetical speaking style. The line is applicable not only because it’s accurate to the situation, but also because the flip-flopping decision making around masks in the state seems to be an outgrowth of the technocratic governor’s own discursive style.

Accordingly, Newsom said about the masking rules on Thursday, “tomorrow join me down in Southern California. We’ll be making specific announcements on this front.” He then called the safety officials’ decision on Wednesday “encouraging,” and said he would “clarify” that ruling on Friday.

It was an odd choice of words given that, according to the Newsom administration’s own top health official, the safety board’s decision is binding, and there is already an official document spelling out the rules. Newsom’s assertion that he would be making his own announcements on masking Friday seem to call the board’s authority into question.

But let’s back up.

On Wednesday, a Standards Board meeting of The Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA, took place, and it was a doozie. It is that board’s decision which allegedly will dictate Covid-prevention requirements at businesses, according to the state’s top health official, not Newsom’s orders of the CA Public Health Department’s new guidance. The three-plus hour public Zoom meeting of the usually little-noticed Standards Board was a chaotic mess, according to reports.

In the end, the Cal/OSHA board overturned its own ruling from last week. That ruling, in effect, would have required unvaccinated employees to wear masks while at work but allow vaccinated workers to doff their masks so long as everyone was immunized, as well.

With last week’s decision nullified, masking requirements revert to those passed by the board eight months ago, when pandemic conditions were much more severe.

Among the requirements now in place are the following:

-All employees shall be separated from other persons by at least six feet, except where an employer can demonstrate that six feet of separation is not possible, and except for momentary exposure while persons are in movement.

-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

There will not be another meeting of the Cal/OSHA group until June 17 — two days after Newsom’s self-declared reopening date — and any rulings it makes on that date will not go into effect until June 28. Unless, that is, Newsom’s announcement tomorrow somehow changes that.

PREVIOUSLY on June 9: 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.

Los Angeles County health officials announced shortly thereafter that L.A. will align with the State’s masking guidance.

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 setting 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.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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