California Officials’ Filp-Flopping Triggers Restrictive 2020 Masking Rules For Businesses Newsom Promises “More Nuanced” Announcement On Friday Updated

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UPDATED with latest: For at least the third time in two weeks, California work safety officials changed their minds on Wednesday about what Covid-19 masking requirements should be at businesses in …

Covid
-19 masking requirements should be at businesses in the state when it reopens next Tuesday. That’s aside from non-binding “guidance” issued by the state’s Department of Public Health on masking in the workplace on Wednesday and forgetting Governor
Gavin Newsom
’s statement in May that there would be “no” masking mandates — aside from at massive public events — and then walking that assertion back one day later. Confused yet? If you’re not, you’re not listening.
That last line is one of Governor Gavin Newsom’s favorite jokes about his own longwinded and hyper-parenthetical speaking style. The line is applicable not only because it’s accurate to the situation, but also because the flip-flopping decision making around masks in the state seems to be an outgrowth of the technocratic governor’s own discursive style.
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Accordingly, Newsom said about the masking rules on Thursday, “tomorrow join me down in Southern California. We’ll be making specific announcements on this front.” He then called the safety officials’ decision on Wednesday “encouraging,” and said he would “clarify” that ruling on Friday.
It was an odd choice of words given that, according to the Newsom administration’s own top health official, the safety board’s decision is binding, and there is already an
spelling out the rules. Newsom’s assertion that he would be making his own announcements on masking Friday seem to call the board’s authority into question.
But let’s back up.
On Wednesday, a Standards Board meeting of The Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA, took place, and it was a doozie. It is that board’s decision which allegedly will dictate Covid-prevention requirements at businesses, according to the state’s top health official, not Newsom’s orders of the CA Public Health Department’s new guidance. The three-plus hour public Zoom
meeting of the usually little-noticed Standards Board was a chaotic mess, according to
reports
.
In the end, the Cal/OSHA board overturned its own ruling from last week. That ruling, in effect, would have required unvaccinated employees to wear masks while at work but allow vaccinated workers to doff their masks so long as everyone was immunized, as well.
With last week’s decision nullified, masking requirements revert to
passed by the board eight months ago, when pandemic conditions were much more severe.
Among the requirements now in place are the following:
-All employees shall be separated from other persons by at least six feet, except where an employer can demonstrate that six feet of separation is not possible, and except for momentary exposure while persons are in movement.
-Employers shall provide face coverings and ensure they are worn by employees over the nose and mouth when indoors, when outdoors and less than six feet away from another person
There will not be another meeting of the Cal/OSHA group until June 17 — two days after Newsom’s self-declared reopening date — and any rulings it makes on that date will not go into effect until June 28. Unless, that is, Newsom’s announcement tomorrow somehow changes that.
PREVIOUSLY on June 9:
California updated its masking guidance yet again on Wednesday. The news comes after a series of confusing announcements on the subject from state and federal officials and just hours before another announcement that may supersede the guidance issued by state officials.
The guidance
issued Wednesday by the California Department of Public Health says that, beginning June 15, fully-vaccinated people will be able to resume everyday activities without wearing a mask. Masks will be required for unvaccinated individuals in indoor public settings and businesses. Masks will also be required in some limited situations regardless of vaccination status. Those exceptions include public transit, schools and childcare centers (pending updated CDC guidance), healthcare and long-term care facilities, prisons, and emergency or homeless shelters.
Los Angeles County health officials announced shortly thereafter that L.A. will align with the State’s masking guidance.
But there’s an asterisk.
In workplaces, employers are subject to the mandates issued by The Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), better known as Cal/OSHA and its Covid-19
Emergency Temporary Standards
(ETS) or the CalOSHA Aerosol Transmissible Diseases Standard.

Those standards have not yet been finalized, even though Governor Gavin Newsom announced the state will reopen next Tuesday.
A special Cal/OSHA Standards Board meeting will take place Wednesday night to discuss the just-announced guidance from the CA Department of Public Health. It is that board’s decision which will mandate business requirements, not the public health department’s new guidance.
California Health and Human Services Director Dr. Mark Ghaly
reportedly
said on Wednesday that the state’s new guidance is not meant to push the board in one way or another in its decision on required masking for employees. It is simply meant to explain the administration’s position with regard to the CDC guidance. But the timing of the release — just hours before the Cal/OSHA board meets — seems curious. It is, at the very least, likely confusing for California residents and businesspeople trying to make plans more than seven days out.
According to the new state guidance, in settings where masks are required only for unvaccinated individuals, businesses, venue operators or hosts are allowed to:
-Allow vaccinated individuals to self-attest that they are in compliance prior to entry
-Implement vaccine verification to determine whether individuals are required to wear a mask
-Require all patrons to wear masks
One important caveat: The CA guidance states that “No person can be prevented from wearing a mask as a condition of participation in an activity or entry into a business.”
There are some individuals who are exempt from wearing masks, regardless of vaccination status. They include:
-Persons younger than two years old
-Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a mask
-Persons who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication
-Persons for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines
PREVIOUSLY on June 1:
Early last month, Governor Gavin Newsom assured Californians that masks were soon going away for fully-vaccinated residents. Asked by a reporter if there would be a mask mandate after June 15, the usually-loquacious Newsom
said
quickly, “No.” He then enumerated a few rare circumstances where masks would still be needed.
The following day, the Governor qualified his assurance saying, “For indoor activities we still will have, likely, some mask mandates. But the hope is those will be lifted sooner rather than later.”
That Newsom got out over his skis is understandable. He’s facing a recall election and, like the rest of us, trying to interpret
conflicting signals
from the CDC and President Biden.
But a committee charged with setting Covid safety measures to the CA Occupational Safety and Health Standards (CalOSHA) Board, advises in
a new draft document
that masking in the workplace should continue after June 15.
The document says, in part, that “Employers shall provide face coverings and ensure they are worn by employees over the nose and mouth when indoors, when outdoors and less than six feet away from another person…” The primary exceptions to this rule would be “When an employee is alone in a room, or when all persons in a room are fully vaccinated and do not have Covid-19 symptoms,” or while “Employees [are] wearing respirators…”
The upshot of those strictures would be that unvaccinated employees would need to wear masks while at work. Also, the presence of one unvaccinated person in a room full of otherwise vaccinated employees would mean everyone has to don a mask. Employers may also be required to track who is vaccinated and who is not. Talk about peer pressure.
Additionally, CDC guidance
issued this weekend
advises unvaccinated people to wear masks “anytime you are indoors or outdoors with people who don’t live with you.”
As for physical distancing, the CA recommendations say that, through July 31, 2022 “all employees shall be separated from other persons by at least six feet” unless respirators are being worn.
There is no suggested end date on the CA mask recommendations. They will be discussed at a meeting of the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board Thursday morning. The seven members of that panel are appointed by Governor Newsom.
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