The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) Standards Board called for a previously unscheduled meeting on Wednesday to reconsider their controversial decision to keep facemaks mandatory for most California businesses following the June 15th reopening date next week.
While new federal CDC mask regulations have now stated that masks are no longer needed in most indoor or outdoor situations for vaccinated people, with exceptions including correctional facilities, homeless shelters, airports, on airplanes, and other places with vulnerable people. However, those same CDC regulations also state that federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance requirements would take precedence over them.
Last week, new Cal/OSHA regulations kept most state mandates in place after the June 15th state reopening, which Gov. Gavin Newsom previously announced as the end of most mandatory face mask usage. According to the new CalOSHA state regulations, face masks would still need to be used in places of business that don’t have all employees vaccinated, until at least July 31st, and possibly into early 2022. Six foot separations will also still be in place for many larger indoor and outdoor events in addition to mandatory face masks.
Many business groups and organizations immediately launched opposition to the new regulations, with the California Retailers Association and others going so far as to send a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom to issue an emergency order to undo Cal/OSHA’s new regulations. The groups noted last week that the regulations would significantly hinder reopening efforts and will considerably dampen the statewide reopening next week.
“You know, it doesn’t sound like a lot, having everyone still wear masks after we’ve been doing it since last March, but it honestly really is,” explained David Kelly-Rogers, a Los Angeles restaurant part-owner and leader of his neighborhood restaurant coalition, to the Globe on Wednesday. “It can cost businesses a lot, especially legally and in terms of equipment, still needed to operate, We thought we were home free next week, but now we have to face more of the same.”
“When potential customers see those masks even though they don’t have to wear them, well, wow. It’s really an issue and can scare many people off. They’re doing businesses no favors with this. We’re just starting to get back on our feet too.”
While Cal/OSHA said that the regulations are needed to protect employees from COVID-19, despite areas of the state reaching herd immunity, the state is likely to reach herd immunity by the end of the summer. Yet other state health officials are calling for Cal/OSHA to roll back the new regulations.
Dr. Aragon’s letter
Earlier this week, California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Tomas Aragon sent a letter to the Cal/OSHA Standards Board stating that California plans on following the looser, federal standards, including stopping nearly all social distancing requirements and dropping the mask requirements for vaccinated people, including those in indoor businesses.
“Accordingly, as of June 15, face coverings will no longer be required for fully vaccinated Californians in public settings, except in the settings where CDC advises that all individuals should wear face coverings regardless of vaccination status, such as healthcare settings and long-term care facilities, public transit, and sheltering operations,” said Dr. Aragon in his letter on Monday. “Accordingly, CDPH will align its face coverings guidance with the CDC by requiring face coverings for all individuals in those unique settings.”
“The CDC also advises that unvaccinated individuals are more likely to get infected and spread the virus, which is transmitted through the air and concentrates indoors and that consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors. Accordingly, CDPH will align its face coverings guidance with the CDC by requiring face coverings for all unvaccinated individuals in indoor public settings and businesses.”
“In settings where masks are required only for unvaccinated individuals, CDPH’s guidance will advise that businesses may choose to allow individuals to self-attest their vaccine status, implement vaccine verification measures, or require all patrons to wear masks. Further, CDPH will affirm that no person can be prevented from wearing a mask as a condition of participation in an activity or entry into a business.
“Finally, CDPH’s updated face coverings guidance will continue to recognize that in workplaces, employers are subject to the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) or in some workplaces the Cal/OSHA Aerosol Transmissible Diseases Standard, and should consult those regulations for additional applicable requirements. The Department remains supportive of your and Cal/OSHA’s efforts to revise the ETS, which remains important to ensuring that California continues its progress in moving beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.”
A possible withdrawal of all new Cal/OSHA regulations on Wednesday
While Dr. Aragon did note support for Cal/OSHA in the letter, experts said that he is really calling for Cal/OSHA to change.
“For those that don’t speak political-ese, he’s pretty much saying ‘Here’s what the feds are saying. We’re going to do that. We like you, but seriously change it up so that we’re all on the same page here,'” explained “Dana,” a State Capitol staffer in Sacramento. “You don’t write a letter giving that much evidence through multiple paragraphs unless you really want that to change.”
Governor Gavin Newsom also changed tune after the letter was sent, announcing on Tuesday that he is “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.”
While the CDPH policy is in direct conflict with Cal/OSHA, Cal/OSHA board members noted this week that they would consider changing their own regulations on Wednesday to align with the CDPH.
“The board will consider Aragón’s letter and take action if appropriate,” said board spokeswoman Erika Monterroza said on Wednesday.
The board is expected to meet Wednesday night and may announce the withdrawal of some or all of their new regulations in time for the June 15th reopening.