Cal-OSHA delays updating COVID mask and vaccine status regulations

Cal-OSHA’S board heard hours of testimony on Thursday, ahead of possible workplace COVID-19 rule changes.

"One of the problems that we have in California is how to adapt an emergency temporary standard, to a fluid situation," said Ken Smith of the University of California.

Members of Cal-OSHA’s board of directors spent hours during a virtual meeting, scrutinizing changes to the state’s ETS rules. Those rules were put in place at the height of the pandemic, mandating mask usage and social distancing to help stop the virus’s spread.

"I have seen grandparents die. I know of carwash workers who died of COVID. So those small percentages that are brought up, we need to remember those are human beings," said Vivi Le of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.

The board is considering dropping mask usage, and social distancing for those who are vaccinated. But, it seeks to require businesses provide N95 masks for people who haven’t been inoculated. It would also require employers to track employee vaccination status.

"It does require a lot to put all of these systems in place in the first place," said Dr. Marcelle Dougan, assistant professor in the San Jose State University Dept. of Public Health & Recreation. "We don’t want to be overly stringent with requirements. But we also want to make sure we don’t end up in the same place we were, say, a year ago."

A plethora of business reps, from farming to the film industry and construction to education, gave testimony. Most decried the mandated N95 mask provision, and requirements they track their employees vaccination status.

"We think we need to go back to the drawing board here. The agency and the standards board should seriously reconsider the necessity of any COVID-19 standard, or any infectious disease standard. Outside the context of employees exposed in the normal course of their duties," said Brian Little of the California Farm Bureau.

A revised recommendation for change is due May 28. The next board meeting is June 3.