By Miriam Raftery
June 14, 2021 (Sacramento) – With case-rates dropping and California now having the third-lowest rate of positive COVID-19 test results in the nation, the state is poised to end its color-coded tiers and lift most restrictions tomorrow. But employers have been in limbo as Cal-OSHA delayed a decision last week on rules to protect workers.
Now, Cal-OSHA is expected to approve new workplace rules proposed by Governor Gavin Newsom this week, which would allow fully vaccinated workers in most workplaces to remove masks and end social distancing requirements starting June 17th.
That’s a turnaround from an earlier proposal by Cal-OSHA, which would have required all workers to wear masks if anyone in the workplace wasn’t vaccinated but drew objections from employers’ groups.
If the new rule is approved, unvaccinated workers would still be required to wear masks at indoor workplaces or when working in vehicles. Employers must provide masks on request for any workers who want them, vaccinated or not, and unvaccinated workers may request N95 masks for maximum protection from COVID-19.
The California Chamber of Commerce issued a statement thanking Governor Newsom for “eliminating confusion and working to ensure the state reopens on June 15th with consistent standards for all based on CDC(Centers for Disease Control) and California Department of Public Health Guidelines.”
The Governor has pledged to sign an executive order if Cal-OSHA approves the new rule as expected, which would allow it to take effect sooner, starting June 17, two days after the state ends its tiered system and allows broad reopening of the economy.
As for customers who patronize businesses, masks will be required for unvaccinated people visiting indoor businesses such as stores, restaurants, theaters, family entertainment centers and government offices serving the public. However vaccinated people will no longer need to wear masks in these locations.
California will work to come up with electronic vaccine verification cards to aid businesses and event organizers. The still will also provide large quantities of masks for workers who want them, Newsom said today.
Businesses and event venue operators can choose from theses three options to enforce the new rules: 1) post rules and rely on the honor system, ie trust that people entering have been vaccinated, 2) have a vaccine verification system to require proof, or 3) require everyone to wear masks.
“Businesses can continue to make choices for themselves, what works for your business,” Newsom said. “We’re not going to mandate passports, but businesses can require verification. Businesses can require mask-wearing. Businesses have the freedom of choice across the spectrum,” though masks remain mandatory for nonvaccinated workers in indoor or transportation settings.
Labor groups including the California Nurses Association, however, have voiced concerns over lifting mask mandates, however, and recommend that people continue to wear them at least until a vaccine is available for young children. Currently, only people age 12 and up are eligible for the vaccine.
Local governments can set their own standards. In San Diego County, masks will still be required starting tomorrow in nine settings: on public transit, indoors in K-12 schools and childcare settings, in healthcare facilities, long-term care facilities, detention centers, homeless shelters, emergency shelters, and cool zones, the County announced today.
The state is also requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test before you arrive at a mega-event indoors drawing over 5,000 people. For outdoor events with 10,000 attendees or more, organizers are encouraged but not required to have the same health protocols.
The state’s new guidelines will be in effect at least until October 1st.
Dr. Wilima Wooten, San Diego County’s public health officer, says, “The end of the state’s framework will allow us to go back to many of the activities we have not been able to enjoy since last March, but the pandemic does not end tomorrow.” She cautioned, “COVID-19 is still present in our community and we all need to continue to do our part to protect the most vulnerable and avoid spreading the virus.”
San Diego County has fully vaccinated close to 1.75 million people, or 62.4% of those age 12 and up. Over 2.10 million San Diego County residents, or 75.2% of those age 12 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The County is close to attaining its goal to fully vaccinated 75% of everyone age 12 and older – or 2.1 million people.
The County’s case rate is 1.2 cases per 100,000 residents, with a positive rate of less than 1%.
San Diego County has lost 3,770 residents who died of COVID-19, which has killed over 600,000 nationwide.
Governor Newsom observed that despite progress made and a lifting of most restrictions statewide, "We're not where we all want to be, which is this pandemic completely extinguished."