California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (CAL/OSHA) can’t seem to make up its mind when it comes to whether employees should wear masks in the workplace. The agency revised its guidelines twice in the span of a week, giving workers a bit of whiplash.
The CDC says fully vaccinated individuals don’t have to wear masks indoors or out in most settings, but a new rule from CAL/OSHA would have required masks in the workplace unless every single person is vaccinated.
However, California is on track to fully reopen its economy on June 15th, which would do away with virtually all pandemic-related safety guidelines in compliance with the CDC.
Business owners were less than thrilled with CAL/OSHA’s decision to keep masks in the workplace. Dozens of business groups, along with farmers, manufacturers, tourism-related industries, and the California Retailers Association, sent an urgent letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom asking him to issue emergency regulations, called Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS), that would essentially overturn the agency’s new policy, so that the state can reopen as planned on June 15th.
“Businesses will not bring employees back with the level of confusion and uncertainty created by the ETS and the mixed messages coming from state and local leaders,” the letter said.
Business groups referred to the agency’s decision as “expensive liabilities for businesses of all sizes, but especially for small businesses who may not have the legal expertise to navigate the confusing and contradictory statements and regulations coming from various levels of government.”
But Gov. Newsom has yet to issue such guidelines. When asked about it last Friday during a press conference, he said his office was disinclined to take such action.
Earlier this week, his office doubled-down on its decision not to get involved, writing that they remain “hopeful the board will further revise its guidance to reflect the latest science while continuing to protect workers and balancing realistic and enforceable requirements for employers.”
The confusion has further put Newsom’s political future in doubt as he faces a recall election this fall.
Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego city councilman and a supporter of the recall effort, is using the misunderstanding to persuade voters that the state is better off without him. In an email to supporters, he referred to the new mask guideline as an “absurd new mask mandate” that “is not only an inconvenience to workers, but this anti-science policy imposes significant costs on small businesses and opens them up to costly frivolous lawsuits.”
Revising the Rules, Yet Again
The uproar among business owners and local officials prompted State Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón to send a message to the panelists on CAL/OSHA, emphasizing the fact that the state plans to fully reopen on the 15th, which contradicts the agency’s recent ruling requiring everyone to wear masks unless everyone is vaccinated.
The agency called a “special meeting” late Wednesday night to discuss the issue. CAL/OSHA then announced it would rescind the mask requirement.
Board Chairman David Thomas commented on the board’s quick reversal, saying that they revised their recommendation “so that it matches up with the CDC and the California Department of Public Health, so that we’re all on the same page. That’s what this is about, so we’re not out of step with everybody else.”
That takes the heat off the agency – at least for now.
They are set to meet again on June 17th after the planned state-wide economic reopening. It’s not clear what, if any, new regulations will be decided next week, but these changes likely won’t take effect until the end of the month.
For the time being, the agency seems to be aligned with the CDC and the rest of the state.
Eric Berg, deputy chief of health at CAL/OSHA, said current public health guidelines generally allow fully vaccinated adults to forgo masks in all settings, regardless of whether their co-workers have gotten their shots. Under those rules, he said, “a vaccinated person would not have to wear a mask at work.”
It looks like California will fully reopen on the 15th, despite this recent mix-up.