Workers in Orange County who are fully vaccinated can expect to drop their masks at their jobs soon as the state workplace regulatory board is expected to revise jobsite pandemic policies Thursday to match the current state public health guidelines.
The California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards (CalOSHA) board members’ impending vote comes after pressure from Gov. Gavin Newsom, the state health officer and numerous business advocacy groups to adjust workplace protocols to reflect guidance from the California Department of Public Health.
The health department’s guidelines allow fully vaccinated people to drop masks in nearly every setting — regardless of who they’re next to — outside of skilled nursing homes, hospitals and public transportation areas.
CalOsha board members are appointed by the governor and are responsible for helping shape and vote on statewide workplace safety policies, while the public health department’s guidelines apply to nearly everyone else outside of a jobsite.
The seven-member board first adopted updated guidelines earlier this month that would have let fully vaccinated people work with no masks, unless they work indoors next to unvaccinated colleagues.
But CalOSHA board members changed their mind last week following pressure from Newsom and others to revise workplace guidelines so they are consistent with the state Department of Public Health’s guidance.
The board rescinded its updated guidelines and is now moving forward on a workplace policy that lets fully vaccinated workers go maskless, regardless of their colleague’s vaccination status.
“We believe those guidelines will align with CDC’s as well as the Department of Public Health guidelines,” Newsom said at a Friday news conference.
Normally, workplace policy changes have to go through an administrative law review, which takes more than a week.
But Newsom said he plans on making the workplace changes effective immediately through an executive order doing away with the administrative law process — if the CalOSHA board adopts the proposed guidelines.
“We’ll codify that with an executive order to make that clear on the 17th,” Newsom said at a Monday news conference. “We’ll move forward as it relates to the [administrative law] process as it relates to that rule making gap … with an executive order that clarifies that.”
There are also lingering questions about how employers will verify their employees are vaccinated before they are allowed to ditch their masks, along with customers for businesses that choose that route.
The proposed guidelines call for employers to verify the vaccine status of their employees.
“‘Fully vaccinated’” means the employer has documented that the person received, at least 14 days prior, either the second dose in a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series or a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine,” reads the proposed policy.
Lucy Dunn, president and CEO of the Orange County Business Council, said local businesses are taking different paths while CalOSHA sorts out the guidelines.
“I can’t reiterate enough that every business wants their customers safe and their workers safe. Some businesses are asking for vaccine records, some businesses are not. And there’s no standard across the board,” Dunn said in a phone interview last week.
Dunn said the local business community wanted the digital vaccine records that were proposed by the Orange County Health Care Agency.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors ultimately shot down that proposal following hundreds of people railing against the idea.
“Just give it to us so we have a choice to download something instead of carrying a card that could be fake. But the county has punted on this for the time being,” Dunn said.
Austin Lynch, organizer for the labor union UNITE HERE local 11, said the digital vaccine documentation was a “no brainer.”
Last Friday, Newsom hinted at state officials producing some type of digital vaccine proof.
“I worry about some of the illegal activity happening with vaccination cards where people are illegally forging vaccination cards,” Newsom said. “As it relates to technology … there are opportunities to make available different strategies to provide a more secure, safe and transparent form of verification.”
He said officials won’t mandate it.
“Again, this is voluntary,” Newsom said. “There’s no mandates, no requirement, no passports in that respect.”
Locally, OC Supervisors have resisted calls from some residents to ban businesses from asking for vaccine proof and have instead left that discretion up to businesses.
Statewide, Newsom is taking the same approach.
At Friday’s news conference, he said businesses have the “freedom of choice” to implement a vaccine verification program and “we would help support those efforts.”
During Monday’s news conference, Newsom said some sort of digital verification program is coming this week.
“We’ll be doing something that provides you the opportunity — we’ll announce this later this week — to have an electronic version of your paper version of vaccinations. It’s not a passport, it’s not a requirement. It’s just the ability now to have an electronic version of your paper version.”
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio