Fully vaccinated people can now ditch their masks at work in Orange County and throughout the Golden State following updates to jobsite pandemic policies by the state’s workplace regulatory board.
Unvaccinated workers will have to wear masks and employers must verify who’s vaccinated through a self-attestation process.
California’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards (CalOSHA) board members adopted the updated guidelines Thursday, voting 6-1 following pressure from Gov. Gavin Newsom, the state health officer and numerous business advocacy groups to revise workplace standards to match general 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 — except nursing homes, hospitals and public transportation.
During CalOSHA’s Thursday board meeting, numerous business advocacy groups said requiring unvaccinated people to keep wearing masks while case rates are low undermines confidence in the vaccine and the statewide reopening in general.
Labor groups, like unions, countered and said they would like to keep masks for everyone — for now — because their frontline employees have been hit the hardest throughout the pandemic and the state is nowhere near herd immunity yet.
“While I understand the proposal in front of us today is extremely controversial … Now, I think, is not the time to let our guards down,” said board member David Harrison during Thursday’s meeting.
The seven-member board, appointed by Newsom, is responsible for helping shape and vote on statewide workplace safety policies.
Normally, workplace policy changes would have to go through an administrative law review.
But within 30 minutes after the board voted, Newsom signed an executive order speeding up those changes.
“Governor Gavin Newsom today signed an executive order enabling the revisions to take effect without the normal 10-day review period by the Office of Administrative Law – providing clarity and consistency for employers and employees as California fully reopens its economy,” reads a statement from Newsom’s office.
One board member expressed concerns about the honor system when it comes to businesses verifying their workers are vaccinated.
“We are now putting most of our eggs in a basket around vaccines. And if the vaccine is our primary strategy here, it is critical to ensure and verify who is vaccinated and who isn’t,” said board member Laura Stock.
Stock was the only dissenting vote.
“This has real consequences that people can get sick and die due to exposure in the workplace,” she said.
Stock also reminded her colleagues of who’s been hit the hardest during the pandemic.
“We can’t forget the disproportionate impact on certain workers — people of color, low-income and immigrants,” Stock said. “These workers not only dealt with higher rates of infections, but also the abuse and stress from the public of trying to enforce these restrictions.”
Newsom has hinted at state officials deploying a vaccine verification program for businesses who opt in.
“I worry about some of the illegal activity happening with vaccination cards where people are illegally forging vaccination cards,” Newsom said at a news conference last Friday. “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.”
The Orange County Health Care Agency was looking into creating a digital vaccine documentation program, but the idea was ultimately shelved when the county Board of Supervisors shot down that proposal following hundreds of people railing against it.
Stock said she doesn’t think the honor system will work for vaccine verification at workplaces.
CalOSHA board chairman David Thomas said part of the reason they took out mandatory vaccine verifications is because people weren’t told to keep their cards. He also said the board’s subcommittee will further study the issue.
“Some of the reason for that is because people were never really told, ‘hey. you need to keep these because you might need to show someone at some point,’” he said.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio