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California rules on work masks could soften for those vaccinated

Members of a California workplace safety council suggested they would act to allow fully vaccinated employees to stop wearing masks while on the job, bringing proposed health rules in line with recommendations issued by health authorities federal and state.

Details were scarce, but Eric Berg, deputy chief of the California occupational safety and health division, said the standards are expected to “comply” with new mask rules issued by the California Department of Public Health for the general public, which are expected to come into effect Tuesday.

These rules allow fully vaccinated people not to wear masks, with a few exceptions, such as on public transport.

The proposal will be presented at a meeting on June 17 and could go into effect by June 28 once it has been reviewed by the state’s Administrative Law Office. This would affect most workplaces, with a few exceptions, including healthcare sites.

The comments came at a special meeting of the State Occupational Safety and Health Standards Council on Wednesday evening that was called to “avoid any confusion regarding the requirements of the occupational safety standards, which would render to both enforcement and unduly difficult compliance, ”said President David Thomas. .

“We’re trying to be very proactive here and give the division a chance to include all of this so that [the proposed rule] matches the CDC and the California Department of Public Health so we’re all on the same page, ”he said.

Less than a week ago, the seven-member board recommended a stricter mask rule, which would have required workers in a room to only be allowed to remove their masks if everyone inside was fully vaccinated and had no COVID-19 symptoms. Masks would still be required if someone in the room was not fully immunized.

The board was split on the issue, initially voting to reject the proposal as a majority of members seemed inclined to go further in relaxing face coverage requirements.

In a compromise concocted on June 3, the board voted to advance the standards and create a subcommittee to work on the revisions.

But it sparked an uproar from business leaders and others who thought the Cal / OSHA proposal for mask requirements was too confusing and at odds with the standards issued by the Department of Public Health. of State.

The board of directors voted unanimously on Wednesday evening to rescind the proposal, which was due to go into effect on June 15.

The actions effectively mean that vaccinated workers will still have to mask themselves in workplaces until June 28, when the new proposal is expected to go into effect.

Business groups that opposed last week’s stricter proposal warned that it could create a situation in which vaccinated people resent unvaccinated colleagues for forcing everyone in an office to wear a mask.

A requirement that employers make respirators such as N95 masks available for use by workers in environments of more than 10,000 people was particularly reprehensible for business groups.

In a letter dated Monday, a coalition of California business groups called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to issue an executive order that would bring workplace guidelines into line with those issued by the CDC and the California Department of Public Health.

“A decree will create a faster and fairer recovery,” the letter said. “Compliance and consistency will help reassure businesses large and small that they can return their employees safely and with clear guidelines and responsibilities. Businesses are making reopening and rehire decisions now and need clarity immediately. We can’t wait weeks – or months – for Cal / OSHA to act. “

Labor representatives, meanwhile, continued to call on the board not to relax mask standards, saying the pandemic was not over and protective measures other than vaccinations were still necessary to prevent vulnerable workers from falling ill.

“Showing up to work to earn a salary and support yourself and your family is not the same as deciding whether or not to go to a barbecue in the Sunday backyard. Most workers don’t have a choice, ”said Saskia Kim, representing the California Nurses Assn.

Some infectious disease experts said vaccines could be trusted to end the pandemic and suggested the original Cal / OSHA mask proposal was unnecessarily restrictive.

At some point, these experts say, people who choose not to be vaccinated must accept the responsibility of wearing a mask to protect themselves.

With daily rates of coronavirus cases in California’s largest metropolitan areas falling to extremely low levels, herd immunity to COVID-19 could begin to protect even those who are not inoculated.

Those who are fully vaccinated have an extraordinarily low risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus.

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