Counties across California are making a detour on the road to easing COVID-19 restrictions.
Los Angeles County
On July 16, 2021, Los Angeles County issued an Order of the Health Officer (“the Order”) that requires all persons to wear face masks while in all indoor public settings, venues, gatherings, and businesses (i.e., office workplaces, retail, restaurants, theaters, meetings), with limited exceptions. In indoor settings where there is close contact with unvaccinated individuals, the Order recommends that people consider wearing a higher level of protection, such as two masks (“double masking”) or a KN95 or N95 respirator. In addition to requiring face masks of all patrons, hosts of public indoor settings must also clearly post visible and legible signage, regardless of whether employee(s) are present, at all entry points for indoor and outdoor settings to communicate the masking requirement.
The Order overrides the more permissive Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards (“ETS”) regarding employee masking. Certain employees may be exempt from wearing a mask when performing specific tasks that cannot feasibly be performed while wearing a mask. This exception is limited to the period of time in which such tasks are actually being performed. Workers who cannot feasibly wear a mask while performing their work must be tested for COVID-19 at least twice per week, unless the employer is provided proof of the employee’s full vaccination against COVID-19, or proof of recovery from laboratory-confirmed COVD-19 within the past 90 days.
Bay Area Counties
On July 16, 2021, seven Bay Area counties—Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Sonoma—as well as the City of Berkeley, issued a joint statement recommending that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear face masks in public indoor spaces as an added layer of protection for unvaccinated residents from COVID-19, including the rapidly spreading Delta variant, and to easily verify that all unvaccinated people are masked in those settings. The joint statement urged businesses to adopt universal masking requirements for customers to provide protections to employees and customers, and also cited ETS’ face covering requirements in the workplace.
Signifying a growing trend across California, several other counties have issued similar statements strongly recommending that masks be worn indoors, regardless of vaccination status, including Monterey, Napa, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties, who issued a joint statement, and Yolo, Sacramento, Fresno, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
What Employers Should Do Now
California employers should:
- Review their COVID-19 safety protocols, keeping in mind that even where universal masking is recommended and not required, employers have an obligation to provide a safe and healthy workplace;
- Revise or issue a temporary supplement to their written COVID-19 Prevention Programs to reflect any mandates, recommendations or guidance in their jurisdiction, particularly as to face masking; and
- Update COVID-19 safety training materials to reflect new procedures, in accordance with any mandates, recommendations or guidance in their jurisdiction, particularly with regard to masking.
Most significantly, employers in Los Angeles County must implement a mask-wearing requirement for all employees in the workplace regardless of vaccination status.
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