The more things change, the more things stay the same.
California is set to fully reopen its economy and end its mask mandate on June 15 — but it appears many of us could still be wearing masks well past that date. That’s because the state’s workplace safety agency on Thursday night passed rules that require employees to wear masks unless everyone in the room is fully vaccinated — something almost impossible to ascertain for many businesses, as the state is not creating a vaccine passport system.
However, the Cal/OSHA standards board also emphasized it will consider further loosening restrictions. It initially voted to reject the rules it eventually adopted, but that would have kept even stricter emergency regulations in place. The about-face occurred after a heated debate that lasted more than nine hours and drew about 800 participants.
Business groups said the loosened rules — which still have to be reviewed by the state Office of Administrative Law — strained credulity.
- Katie Hansen, the California Restaurant Association’s senior legislative director: “A fully vaccinated server could work a lunch shift at a restaurant … and then go out to dinner with their family or friends at the same restaurant in the evening and not be required to wear a mask, even though they had to wear a mask earlier in the day while at work.”
Industry groups also pushed back on a requirement that employers provide N95 masks for unvaccinated workers. Labor groups, meanwhile, said heightened safety standards are necessary to protect workers.
- Michael Young, a lobbyist of the California Federation of Teachers: There’s a “difference between members of the public willfully going to a restaurant or gym or other businesses, versus workers required to be physically present at a worksite.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who could overturn the rules via executive order, declined to take a stance on the issue Thursday. But he extended through the end of the year two other temporary pandemic measures: the ability for restaurants to offer to-go alcoholic drinks and expanded outdoor dining.
- Newsom: “I’ve been up and down the state, and parklets have taken off everywhere. All I can say is, ‘Eat your heart out, Paris.’”
Another thing that’s stayed the same: California’s vaccination rate, which has continued to fall despite Newsom’s $116.5 million vaccine incentive program. But the governor’s administration is optimistic it will start ticking up today, when the state unveils the first 15 winners of a $50,000 cash prize. The next 15 winners will be announced June 11, and 10 Californians will win $1.5 million each on June 15, the date of the state’s grand reopening. You can find more information about the program here.