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June 07, 2021
California readopts COVID-19 emergency rules

On June 3, the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board readopted revised COVID-19 prevention emergency temporary standards (ETSs) proposed May 28 by the Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA). The revised ETS phases out physical distancing requirements and makes other adjustments to the rules.

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The ETS may be readopted one more time, and a board subcommittee and Cal/OSHA began work on further revisions.

Changes in the revised standards include:

  • Fully vaccinated workers without COVID-19 symptoms do not need to wear face coverings in a room where everyone else is fully vaccinated and not showing symptoms.
  • Fully vaccinated and unvaccinated workers without symptoms do not need to wear face coverings outdoors except when working at “outdoor mega events” with over 10,000 attendees—either special events or at theme parks.
  • Employers can eliminate physical distancing and partitions/barriers, once the revised standards take effect, for employees working indoors and at outdoor mega events if they provide respirators, such as N95s, to unvaccinated employees for voluntary use.
  • After July 31, physical distancing and barriers are no longer required (except during outbreaks), but employers must provide all unvaccinated employees with N95s for voluntary use.
  • Employers are still required to establish and maintain a written COVID-19 prevention program, with some key changes to program requirements:
  • Fully vaccinated workers who do not have COVID-19 symptoms no longer need to be excluded from the workplace after a close contact with a person with COVID-19.
  • Special COVID-19 prevention measures that apply to employer-provided housing and transportation no longer apply if all occupants are fully vaccinated.

California’s revised emergency standards are expected to go into effect no later than June 15 if approved by the state’s Office of Administrative Law. Some provisions go into effect starting on July 31.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers people fully vaccinated 2 weeks after a second dose of the 2-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines or 2 weeks after the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The board last year adopted health and safety standards to protect workers from workplace COVID-19 exposures. Under California’s emergency rulemaking process, the emergency COVID-19 rules may be readopted one more time. As part of the emergency rulemaking process, the standards board convened a subcommittee to work with Cal/OSHA on a proposal for further updates to the ETS. The board anticipates that the newest proposal, once developed, will be heard at an upcoming board meeting. The subcommittee will provide regular updates at the standards board’s monthly meetings.

The Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board is the standards-setting agency within the Cal/OSHA program. The seven-member body is appointed by the governor.

Michigan, Oregon, and Virginia also established COVID-19 emergency rules last year. Oregon and Virginia adopted permanent standards earlier this year, and Michigan extended its ETS in April.

There is no federal COVID-19 ETS or infectious disease standard. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) submitted text of a federal COVID-19 ETS to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) on April 26. That rule is still undergoing regulatory review. The OIRA currently has meetings about the ETS scheduled through June 9.

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