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California Regulators Reconsider Workplace Mask Rules…Again

California’s workplace regulators are set to again reconsider controversial masking rules designed to protect employees against the coronavirus — requirements that business organizations say will make it harder for them to operate when the state fully reopens its economy next week.

A “special meeting” of the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board was hastily scheduled for Wednesday after State Health Officer Dr. Tomás Aragón sent a letter to the panel reiterating the state’s plans to follow federal guidance starting next Tuesday.

Aragón said the state will do away with virtually all social distancing requirements and drop the mask requirement for people who are vaccinated while “requiring face coverings for all unvaccinated individuals in indoor public settings and businesses.”

That policy conflicts with the board’s vote last week to allow workers to go maskless only if every employee in a room is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The board will consider Aragón’s letter “and take action if appropriate,” board spokeswoman Erika Monterroza said.

The Cal/OSHA board’s regulations apply in almost every workplace in the state, including workers in offices, factories and retail.

The board at Wednesday’s meeting could withdraw the new rules that it adopted less than a week ago because those have not yet become effective, Monterroza said.

But that would at least temporarily leave in place existing emergency rules that are even more stringent, requiring all workers to keep distanced and masked even if vaccinated.

The board can’t adopt new changes without posting the proposed revisions and giving the public at least five calendar days of notice, she said. That potentially sets up further public comment and action at the board’s regularly scheduled June 17 meeting.

The board’s rules decision have put Newsom in an awkward position as the state nears what he promised would be a full reopening and while he faces a likely recall election in the fall.

Business groups have asked Newsom to use his emergency powers to intervene and rescind the board’s regulations, but Newsom indicated he was disinclined to do so when asked about taking such action last Friday.

Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego city councilman who wants Newsom recalled, sent an email to supporters on Tuesday that highlighted an “absurd new mask mandate” that “is not only an inconvenience to workers, but this anti-science policy imposes significant costs on small businesses and opens them up to costly frivolous lawsuits.”

The board said it will hear briefings from the state Department of Public Health and California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health at Wednesday’s meeting before considering “the impact of the presented information” on its new rules.

—The Associated Press

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