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"California is preparing to get back to normal," reads the top of the California Department of Public Health's Blueprint for a Safer Economy webpage. The Blueprint has been successfully guiding all 58 counties since Jan. 25 when Gov. Newsom lifted the Regional Stay Home order on Jan. 25 that had imposed the nation's strictest restrictions to spare hospitals from being overwhelmed with COVID patients during the deadly fall/winter surge.
On June 15, capacity and distancing restrictions will be lifted for most businesses and activities. Large-scale indoor events will have vaccination or negative test requirements for attendees through at least October 1.
California is one of four states and Puerto Rico that didn't adopt the less-restrictive Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) masking guidance issued on May 13 that largely exempts fully vaccinated people from masking requirements. On June 15, the California Department of Public Health will align its masking guidance with the CDC, meaning that for the most part, it's "back to normal" next Tuesday. Or is it?
The workplace exception
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on workers, causing death, serious illness and in many cases, long term chronic illness,” said Cal/OSHA deputy chief Eric Berg, adding that while the situation has improved thanks to vaccines, it’s not yet safe to retire face masks, social distancing and other safety measures. “We cannot rely on vaccines alone to stop transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace,” he said.
"The new rules will go into effect June 15 and last until early next year, though the agency has the option to revise or repeal them sooner," adds Kendall. Five rules were adopted, including:
"The new rules add another layer of complexity to the state’s pandemic recovery as COVID-19 cases decline, vaccination rates increase and society continues to reopen," adds Kendall.
At least one widely-respected public health expert strongly disagreed, indicating that "Newsom should waste no time in overruling the stringent guidelines," reported Eric Ting for SFGate on June 4.
"The problem with Cal/OSHA's decision is that they’ve failed to embrace the effectiveness of vaccines," said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at UCSF. "The CDC is an extremely cautious organization, but their recommendation that immunity from a vaccine is far more powerful than protection from a mask is sound. California's continued interest in adhering to masks in the face of high vaccination rates, low case rates and the CDC guidance is unfathomable."
Gandhi, who authored seven papers on the benefits of universal masking, does not believe there is any science that justifies Cal/OSHA's decision, especially since there is nothing stopping employees who wish to continue wearing masks from doing so. She stated that the only possible explanation behind the rules is that masking has become a political issue and that lifting mask mandates is seen as a right-wing position.
Ting reported separately that "Newsom seemed to suggest he would not overrule those guidelines via executive order."
"They're moving in the right direction and we'll continue to look forward to the deliberations there at the board, and they're an independent board, so one has to be mindful of that," he said.
For California readers who will be returning to their workplaces, see Kendall's second piece, "What is and isn’t allowed in the workplace?" about the Cal/OSHA rules. "The rules are confusing, and they might change again soon."
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