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Calif. Mulls Nixing Mask Requirement For Vaccinated Workers

By Dave Simpson · June 10, 2021, 8:14 PM EDT

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health will put forward recommended COVID-19 worker safety rule changes later this month that could remove mask requirements for a large swath of vaccinated workers in the state.

CAL OSHA Deputy Chief of Research and Standards Eric Berg told a worker safety board Wednesday that he will present the board with suggested revisions to its rules at its June 17 meeting, which would align with California Department of Public Health guidance released on that same day. If approved on June 17, the mask requirements could be nixed for most vaccinated workers by June 28, board officials said.

Upon news of the CDPH's Wednesday guidance, which recommends a reduction in mask requirements for vaccinated individuals across the state, the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board called an emergency meeting and voted to withdraw its June 3 recommendation for changes to pandemic-related worker rules.

Berg spoke little about the specifics of the proposed changes, which he said CAL OSHA would have about a day to craft, other than to note that they would align with the CDPH's Wednesday guidance.

The CDPH guidance, which sets rules for the general public, allows vaccinated individuals to remove their masks except on public transit, and in schools, prisons, healthcare settings and shelters. In most outdoor settings masks will not be required, regardless of vaccine status.

Berg indicated that CAL OSHA's recommendation would likely follow this framework, which he said also aligns with guidelines laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and follows the recommended science.

Without knowledge of the CDPH's planned changes to the mask requirements for the general public, the board voted to change some of its November 2020 rules on June 3.

The June 3 rule changes had not yet been cleared by the state's Office of Administrative Law.

Under the Administrative Procedure Act, the board is only allowed to adopt new rules two times, a board official said Wednesday. If the June 3 rule changes had not been withdrawn by the board Wednesday, it would have burnt one of the board's two allotted adoptions.

The new, less stringent mask rules set to come before the board on June 17 would be the second of two allotted adoptions, allowing the board little wiggle room moving forward. For this reason, the board called an emergency Wednesday meeting to withdraw the June 3 rule changes.

With the June 3 rule changes unanimously withdrawn, the requirements will stay as is, defined by the November 2020 rules.

At the meeting, members of the seven-person board seemed to differ on what should be expected under the coming rule change proposal. Some members advocated for a verification process that workers are vaccinated, while others said it should be left up to an honor system.

Some board members felt that unvaccinated individuals should be required to wear N95 masks.

The board heard several hours of public comment on the issue.

--Editing by Regan Estes.

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