California regulators withdraw mask rules for businesses amid backlash, confusion

California workplace regulators withdrew a controversial pending mask regulation while they consider a rule that more closely aligns with Governor Gavin Newsom’s promise that the state will fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday. will open from

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board’s revised rule, adopted last week after initially being rejected, would have allowed workers to wear masks only if each worker in a room was fully protected against the coronavirus. have been vaccinated. This contrasts with a state-wide plan to remove nearly all masking and social distancing requirements for vaccinated people in concert with the latest recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The board’s decision late Wednesday to withdraw that work place rule before it goes into effect allows the board to consider the changes at its June 17 meeting and potentially put them into effect by the end of the month .

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But some business leaders kept up the pressure on Newsom on Wednesday to override the board.

“Following the confusion and lack of clarity on reopening guidelines at tonight’s Cal/OSHA hearing, the statewide business community should once again request the governor to issue an executive order before June 15th so that all to provide employers with consistency and certainty in the guidelines,” Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, said in a statement after the vote. “It will be a catalyst for a complete economic reopening and create a powerful incentive for even more Californians to get vaccinated,” he said.

The goal of the unanimous vote, said board chairman David Thomas, is to change workplace regulation “so that it coincides with the CDC and the California Department of Public Health, so that we are all on the same page. That’s about it, So we’re not out of step with everyone else.”

Employees of the Safety Board were not specific about what changes it would recommend next week, other than that it will try to make workplace rules more closely compliant with public health guidelines.

But Eric Berg, deputy chief of health for California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, known as Cal/OSHA, said public health guidelines generally allow anyone who is vaccinated , quits wearing masks inside the house. Under those rules, he said, “the person vaccinated would not have to wear a mask at work.”

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State health official Dr Tomas Aragon reiterated to board members in a hastily scheduled special meeting that the state would end most masking rules for vaccinated people next week, while wearing face coverings for non-vaccinated people in indoor public settings The need will continue. and business.

Exceptions where everyone must remain masked include public transportation, indoor school classes, in health care and correctional facilities, and in places like homeless shelters and cooling centers, Aragon said. He added that individual businesses are also free to require everyone to remain masked under normal rules.

Helen Cleary, director of the Filer Regulatory Roundtable, an alliance of large businesses with major California operations, was one of several business representatives who urged the board to align its rule with public health requirements.

“Employers cannot plan with this high level of uncertainty,” she said. “We are frustrated and disappointed by the confusion, the lack of process, essence and leadership.”

The workplace board’s more restrictive approach put Newsom in an awkward position as he contests a pending recall election, though he was reluctant to override a board he appoints.

“The public doesn’t differentiate between this board and the rest of the Newsom administration,” Michael Miller, government relations director for the California Association of Winegrape Growers, told board members ahead of the vote. “What they hear is the Newsom administration says wearing a mask at work may be here to stay.”

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Pressure on the board came ahead of the meeting when a dozen business groups, including the California Retailers Association and organizations representing manufacturers, farmers, tourism interests and other industries, sent a letter to Newsom asking for the board’s rules to be repealed.

He added that requiring masks until everyone in the workplace is vaccinated “will create another barrier to re-hiring and reopening” when “we have to get people back.” There is a need to provide incentives,” he said. Furthermore, he added that requiring masks for fully vaccinated people may lead the public to believe that the vaccine is not in fact effective.

Board member Laura Stock said it is important to protect employees who have no real choice but to go to work.

For example, state data shows that there were “70 outbreaks in the retail sector in the past 30 days, more than two a day,” said Stock, who directs the Labor Occupational Health Program at UC Berkeley. “Outbreaks are still happening.”

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Business groups also want the board to withdraw its proposal from July 31 to begin providing the most effective N95 masks for voluntary use by employees, who work indoors or at large outdoor events and completely Vaccination is not given. It will be expensive and will compete. With the needs of health care workers, he said.

But “the N95 is the one that checked all those boxes” for safety, Stock said.

Cal/OSHA board rules apply to nearly every workplace in the state, including employees working in offices, factories, and retail. Its pandemic rules apply to all employees except those working from home or where there is a single employee who has no contact with other people.

Even before Wednesday’s vote, board members insisted their revised rules were temporary, and they appointed a subcommittee to continue working on the amendment.

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