CORONAVIRUS US

Should vaccinated employees wear a mask in California?

Pandemic workplace rules updated for California no later than 15 June allowing workers to go maskless in indoor settings if all are fully vaccinated.

Should vaccinated employees wear a mask in California?
LUCY NICHOLSON REUTERS

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (Cal/OSHA) on Thursday approved controversial rules to allow workers to go maskless under certain circumstances. At the urging of business groups and members of the public the workplace regulators lifted some pandemic restrictions.

The board initially voted to reject any changes to rules currently in place with divergent views on the cost to employers of new regulations and just how far the changes needed to go. However, after chairman David Thomas pointed out without the proposed changes the current rules would be in place as the state prepares to fully reopen in two weeks the board unanimously adopted the revised regulations for the time being. A three-member subcommittee will consider further easing pandemic rules in the coming weeks to take into account changes in circumstances.

New rules for mask wearing

Californian workers no longer need to wear a mask in a room, employee housing facility or transport where everyone is vaccinated and not showing symptoms. Outdoors both those who are fully vaccinated and unvaccinated without symptoms of covid-19 can ditch their masks. The exception being “outdoor mega events” with over 10,000 attendees where regardless of vaccination status all workers will be required to wear a face mask. These “outdoor mega events” include events or theme parks among others. The rule on masking up indoors will continue for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

When the new rules take effect physical distancing and barriers to separate employees can be removed for both indoor and outdoor mega events. That is on the condition that employers provide N95-type masks to unvaccinated employees for voluntary use. Barriers and physical distancing will not be required for other workplaces after 31 July, except during an outbreak, and again employers will have to provide masks for voluntary use.

Fully vaccinated employees will also not be excluded from the workplace even if they have had close contact with someone who has covid-19, that is as long as they show no symptoms.

Why is California relaxing the rules for the workplace?

The workplace rules in place are seen as inconsistent with the rules that will be in place for the public. In less than two weeks California will drop the majority of its mask and social distancing requirements for vaccinated people. Members of the public who are fully vaccinated will be able to go maskless in most setting even if unvaccinated individuals are present, while vaccinated employees would have to wear masks in the same setting.

California is loosening its restrictions now that the state has seen its positivity rate plummet from the winter highs to just 0.8 percent. Currently, 17.6 million of its nearly 40 million residents are fully vaccinated and another 4-plus million partially vaccinated reaching President Biden's 4 July goal of 70 percent of the population with at least one.