Flash Report: Take Three on COVID Revisions

Less than a week after it adopted controversial revisions to the COVID emergency standard, the Cal/OSHA Standards Board voted to pull them back. Now the plan is for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health to propose a new version. The board will vote on the newer new version at its June 17th meeting.

The reasons? The spoken reason is the new guidance from the California Department of Public Health on the use of face masks based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. CDPH Director Dr. Tomas Aragon told the board at a special June 9th meeting that it has been incorporated into the guidelines. “I wish we had them last week,” commented board chair, Dave Thomas.

The behind-the-scenes reasons, however, involve politics. Faced with a recall, not wanting to sign another Executive Order, business interests who argue for less regulation towards a more open economy, and a far-left which wants masks to continue, Governor Gavin Newsom is navigating a turbulent ocean wondering which of the multiple demons of the deep will rise to bite him. The Standards Board is trying to calm the seas and appease its demons.

The newer new guidelines spare fully vaccinated people from wearing masks in public settings, except in healthcare, long-term care, public transit, and sheltering operations. The guidelines don’t specifically address employees, and Aragon said CDPH is supportive of “Cal/OSHA’s efforts to revise the ETS.”

Board Executive Officer Christina Shupe scotched any notion of the board voting to repeal the ETS altogether, at least not at the hastily called meeting. Such an action would require proper public notice, she said.

The meeting came as an employer coalition urged Governor Gavin Newsom to issue an executive order paring back the ETS and provide “safe harbor” for employers from Cal/OSHA enforcement actions related to the ETS.

The latest action by the board is take three on the regulation, which was adopted in late November. At the June 3rd meeting, it voted down DOSH-proposed revisions, then reversed course and approved them after it became clear the current version, considered outdated, would likely be in place for a couple of more months.

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