California workers will no longer be required to wear face masks in the workplace, as long as all employees in a single room are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to new rules approved Thursday by California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board.
The change, expected to be effective June 15, comes after the board heard dozens of comments from business groups and the public urging members to ease mask restrictions in the workplace.
The board initially voted 4-3 to reject changes to the current rules, which require masks in the workplace for all employees. The existing rules also require employers to establish partitions to provide adequate social distancing.
The board reconsidered after hearing the comments and voted to reverse the initial decision. The new rules were adopted unanimously, allowing workers without masks if all employees in the room are vaccinated.
“Face coverings and mask requirements are more restrictive and onerous than they need to be,” said Melissa Patack, vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America, calling for relaxed restrictions due to California’s low Covid-19 case rates and hospitalizations.
More than 50% of California’s population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to state data. The state’s seven-day case rate per 100,000 residents is 7.3, which was one of the lowest in the nation as of Thursday, data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.
Last month, the CDC recommended that people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 do not need to wear masks or practice social distancing indoors or outdoors, except under certain circumstances. The guidance said unvaccinated people should wear masks in almost all situations where other unvaccinated people may be present.
Under the new workplace mask proposal, employers still will be required to provide masks to employees since the change applies only to fully vaccinated people.
Some critics said this could lead to people stockpiling N-95 masks while also creating tension among employees in which some will condemn others who aren’t vaccinated.
“Employees will be pissed off wondering whose fault it is that they have to wear a mask,” San Francisco employment lawyer Stephen Hirschfeld said. “This could set up a situation where they try to figure out who is unvaccinated and give them a hard time.”
Board members said a three-person subcommittee of California’s OSHA will consider additional changes to mask rules in the coming weeks, stating the new rules are a temporary solution.
Barring any legal roadblocks from the state, the new proposal will take effect in California on June 15, the same day the state plans to reopen its economy and effectively eliminate masks and social distancing requirements in most settings.
In April, California health officials announced the state would fully reopen this month amid falling Covid-19 infection rates and low hospitalizations.