California Backs Off Plan To Force Workers To Keep Masking Up

The state is going to "reopen" June 15. That includes ending most mask mandates for vaccinated people.


California's work regulatory agency is backing down from a plan that would have forced many people across the state to keep wearing masks at work even if they've been vaccinated.

In five days, California is finally supposed to "reopen." Vaccinated residents will finally be able to go most places without wearing masks or engaging in social distancing.

This is already the case in many states, in compliance with recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has used his broad emergency powers to delay the change.

Reopening is supposed to mean an end to state-ordered mask mandates for those who have been vaccinated. But California's Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board adopted a rule on June 4 that said employees could go unmasked only if everybody else in the room has been vaccinated and isn't showing symptoms. The rule would also have required businesses to keep records of people's vaccinations.

This is not a reasonable expectation for a workplace. Forcing everybody to wear masks if some people choose not to get vaccinated is simply not a good policy. And forcing a business to maintain vaccination records clearly violates employees' privacy.

Businesses balked—imagine having to police all this under threat of punishment by the state—and the board reconsidered. On Wednesday, the board unanimously agreed to withdraw the rule it had just passed. We don't know quite yet what will replace it, but Chairman David Thomas promised that whatever comes will be designed "so that it matches up with the CDC and the California Department of Public Health, so that we're all on the same page."

If they do, in fact, "follow the science" here, then vaccinated folks will not be required to wear masks at work. And that's obviously how it should be.

The state will, unfortunately, maintain some other masking regulations. The Associated Press reports that "everyone must remain masked" in "public transit, indoor school classes, in health care and correctional facilities, and in places like homeless shelters and cooling centers."

The same articles notes that "Individual businesses are also free to require everyone to remain masked under the general rules, he said." But that part's fine. States have bounced between forcing private business to adopt strict COVID policies (as California is doing until June 15) and forcing them not to (Texas and Florida have forbidden private businesses from asking for proof of vaccination). Better to let businesses assess their own risks.