Regulators withdraw controversial California work mask rules

Jun 9, 2021, 10:34 PM | Updated: 11:37 pm

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s workplace regulators have withdrawn a controversial pending mask regulation while they consider a rule that more closely aligns with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s promise that the state will fully reopen from the pandemic on Tuesday.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board’s revised rule, adopted last week after it was initially rejected, would have allowed workers to forego masks only if every employee in a room is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. That contrasts with the state’s broader plan to do away with virtually all masking and social distancing requirements for vaccinated people in concert with the latest recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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

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

“After the confusion and lack of clarity on reopening guidelines at the Cal/OSHA hearing tonight, the statewide business community must once again request the governor issue an Executive Order before June 15 to provide all employers with the consistency and certainty in guidelines,” Rob Lapsley, president of the California Business Roundtable, said in a statement after the vote. That, he said, “will be the catalyst for a full economic reopening and create a powerful incentive to get even more Californians vaccinated.”

The goal of the unanimous vote, said board chairman David Thomas, is to change the workplace regulation “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.”

The safety board’s staff was not specific on what changes it will recommend next week, other than it will try to more closely conform the workplace rules 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 the public health guidelines generally allow anyone who is vaccinated to skip wearing a mask indoors. Under those rules, he said, “a vaccinated person would not have to wear a mask at work.”

The reversal came after State Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón reiterated to board members at a hastily scheduled special meeting that the state next week will end most masking rules for people who are vaccinated, while continuing to require face coverings for unvaccinated people in indoor public settings and businesses.

Exceptions where everyone must remain masked include public transit, indoor school classes, in health care and correctional facilities, and in places like homeless shelters and cooling centers, Aragón said. Individual businesses are also free to require everyone to remain masked under the general rules, he said.

Helen Cleary, director of the Phylmar Regulatory Roundtable, a coalition of large businesses with major California operations, was among numerous business representatives urging the board to conform its rule with public health requirements.

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

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

“The public doesn’t draw a distinction between this board and the rest of the Newsom administration,” Michael Miiller, California Association of Winegrape Growers government relations director, told board members before the vote. “What they hear is the Newsom administration say that wearing masks at work may be here to stay.”

Pressure on the board built before 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 him to rescind the board’s regulations.

Requiring masks unless all are vaccinated in a workplace would “create yet another barrier to rehiring and reopening” at a time when “we need to be providing incentives to bring people back,” they said. Moreover, they said requiring masks for people who are fully inoculated could lead the public to believe the vaccine isn’t really effective.

Board member Laura Stock said it is important to keep protecting employees who don’t have a realistic choice but to go to work.

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

Business groups also want the board to withdraw its proposal to require employers to start providing the most effective N95 masks for voluntary use by employees who work indoors or at large outdoor events and are not fully vaccinated, starting July 31. That would be costly and compete with the needs of health care workers, they said.

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

The Cal/OSHA board’s regulations apply in almost every workplace in the state, including workers 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 does not have contact with other people.

Even prior to Wednesday’s vote, board members emphasized that their revised rules were temporary, and they appointed a subcommittee to continue working on revisions.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - More than 100 opponents of the Republican redistricting plans vow to fight the maps at a ral...
Associated Press

Abortion ruling puts spotlight on gerrymandered legislatures

In overturning a half-century of nationwide legal protection for abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Roe v. Wade had been wrongly decided and that it was time to “return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives” in the states. Whether those elected officials are truly representative of the people is a matter […]
17 hours ago
People salute the casket of Hershel "Woody" Williams set up in the first floor rotunda of the West ...
Associated Press

WWII Medal of Honor recipient to lie in honor at US Capitol

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hershel W. “Woody” Williams, the last remaining Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, will lie in honor at the U.S. Capitol, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday. A date and other details will be announced later, Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement. […]
17 hours ago
Associated Press

West Africa leaders lift sanctions on 2 junta-led neighbors

ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — West African leaders attending a regional summit agreed Sunday to lift sanctions on two neighbors led by military governments that are now promising a return to democratic rule. The summit of the Economic Community of West African States resolved to lift all economic and financial sanctions imposed on Mali and Burkina […]
17 hours ago
People evacuated from the Field's shopping center gather outside,  in Orestad, Copenhagen, Denmark,...
Associated Press

Several dead in Copenhagen mall shooting; suspect arrested

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A gunman opened fired inside a busy shopping mall in the Danish capital on Sunday, killing several people and wounding several others, police said. A 22-year-old Danish man was arrested after the shooting, Copenhagen police inspector Søren Thomassen told reporters, adding there was no indication that anyone else was involved, though […]
17 hours ago
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, briefs the media after a meeting with her counterpart fr...
Associated Press

Germany, Ireland slam UK move toward overriding Brexit deal

LONDON (AP) — Germany and Ireland have condemned the U.K government’s move towards unilaterally rewriting parts of the post-Brexit deal with the European Union. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Irish counterpart Simon Coveney said there was “no legal or political justification” for overriding the agreed trade rules in Northern Ireland. Writing in British newspaper […]
17 hours ago
FILE - California Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses the recent mass shooting in Texas during a news confe...
Associated Press

‘Join us in California’: Newsom targets GOP in Florida ad

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom is running for reelection in California, but his latest television ad is airing in Florida. The 30-second spot scheduled to air on Fox News starting Monday takes shots at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his policies, while drawing a contrast with California. “Freedom, it’s under attack in your […]
17 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
...
Arizona Division of Problem Gambling

Arizona Division of Problem Gambling provides exclusion solution for young sports bettors

Sports betting in Arizona opened a new world to young adults, one where putting down money on games was as easy as sending a text message.
Regulators withdraw controversial California work mask rules