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What to Know About Workplace Mask Rules

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Good morning.

One week from today, after some 15 months of living under an ever-evolving set of coronavirus restrictions, California is set to reopen. Full stop.

Well, almost full stop.

Capacity restrictions on businesses are going away. There will be no more color-coded tiers. And although Gov. Gavin Newsom initially had indicated that the state’s mask mandate would remain in place even after other restrictions had been lifted, officials have since said that Californians will no longer have to wear masks, unless a private business decides to continue requiring them.

There are, however, some complexities that you or your employer might be sorting out right now.

Last week, after what Politico reported was a long and at times confusing meeting, a state board regulating workplace safety approved new standards for mask-wearing at work. And although the new rules are slightly looser than previously, they still require some masking.

Here’s what you need to know.

If I’m going into work, will I have to wear a mask? Even if I’m vaccinated?

Maybe. But depending on where you work, it may not be likely.

If you work indoors and everyone in the room is fully vaccinated, then none of you need to wear a mask.

But if even one of your co-workers is unvaccinated, you’ll all have to wear masks.

If you work outdoors and you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t have to cover your face. And if your co-workers are not vaccinated, they must wear a face covering when they’re less than six feet away from another person.

Speaking of six feet, have the physical distancing standards changed?

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Yes. Starting July 31, employers can get rid of distancing requirements or partitions or barriers for people working inside and at “mega outdoor events” with 10,000 or more spectators. Until then, if you work inside or at a mega event, distancing is still required, whether or not you’re vaccinated.

Employers can eliminate distancing requirements early, starting June 15, if they provide unvaccinated workers with N95 masks or other respirators.

Also, if you’re fully vaccinated and you have a close contact with someone who tests positive for the coronavirus, you don’t have to stay home unless you have symptoms.

How is California doing with vaccinations?

More than half of Californians, about 55.4 percent, have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and about 45 percent are fully vaccinated, according to The Los Angeles Times’s detailed state tracker. But fewer low-income Californians have been vaccinated than those who live in communities designated as wealthier and healthier — meaning that many in-person essential workers could still be at risk.

When do the rules go into effect?

June 15, although the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board could still revise them in coming weeks. Newsom could overrule them — say, to loosen the rules to more closely align with federal guidance — but he hasn’t said that he plans to do so, according to The Sacramento Bee.

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