The Cal/OSHA board met Thursday and adopted new pandemic-related workplace safety rules, which say employers may allow fully vaccinated employees to stop wearing masks at work, and stop requiring physical distancing for workers. 

A statewide public health order that went into effect Tuesday had already ended requirements for fully vaccinated people to wear masks in some public settings, although people can still choose to wear them and businesses can still require all customers to wear them. 

Santa Barbara County ended its local public health officer order and now defers to the state order. 

Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso said last week that the mismatched timing of statewide changes has caused a lot of confusion.

“I just wish (Cal/OSHA) would get on the same page as the California Department of Public Health,” she said.   

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (known as Cal/OSHA) released information about the proposed changes, which were adopted by the board on Thursday: 

» Fully vaccinated employees without symptoms do not need to be tested or quarantined after close contacts with COVID-19 cases unless they have symptoms.

» No face covering requirements outdoors (except during outbreaks), regardless of vaccination status, though workers should be trained on CDPH recommendations for outdoor use of face coverings.

» Employers may allow fully vaccinated employees not to wear face coverings indoors, but must document their vaccination status. There are some settings where CDPH requires face coverings regardless of vaccination status. In outbreaks, all employees must wear face coverings indoors and outdoors when 6-feet physical distancing cannot be maintained, regardless of vaccination status.

» Employers must provide unvaccinated employees with approved respirators for voluntary use when working indoors or in a vehicle with others, upon request.

» Employers may not retaliate against employees from wearing face coverings.

» No physical distancing or barrier requirements regardless of employee vaccination status with the following exceptions: Employers must evaluate whether it is necessary to implement physical distancing and barriers during an outbreak (3 or more cases in an exposed group of employees); employers must implement physical distancing and barriers during a major outbreak (20 or more cases in an exposed group of employees).

» No physical distancing requirements whatsoever in the employer-provided housing and transportation regulations.

» Where all employees are vaccinated in employer-provided housing and transportation, employers are exempt from those regulations 

» Employers must evaluate ventilation systems to maximize outdoor air and increase filtration efficiency, and evaluate the use of additional air cleaning systems

Click here to read more about the proposed revisions to the emergency temporary standards.

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order shortly after the vote, which will make the changes go into effect as soon as it is filed with the Secretary of State, faster than the usual 10-day waiting period. 

“Public health directives and the requirements of the Emergency Temporary Standards applicable to workplaces throughout California should be consistent to protect public health, and an extended period of misalignment would likely impose unnecessary burdens on employers, and cause confusion among employers and employees alike, impeding the state’s recovery,” the executive order states.  

Essential workers with crowded, in-person jobs have been vulnerable to infection during the pandemic, and their workplaces could become busier with the end of capacity limits and physical distancing.

When asked about protections for essential workers, Do-Reynoso said last week, “I firmly believe that masks are effective in disease mitigation and protection. However, I think that I would reframe that as saying we need to encourage essential workers to protect themselves and everyone in the community to protect essential workers, and vaccination is the key.”

She also advised unvaccinated people to minimize higher-risk environments. 

“Vaccination is the gold standard in terms of protection, but if someone can’t get vaccinated, those safety measures that we have at our disposal – masking, social distancing, being outside – will lend the (unvaccinated people) more protection,” she said.

Recent infographics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and county public health department noted indoor activities that were “least safe” for unvaccinated people were going to an indoor movie theater, attending a full-capacity worship service, singing in an indoor chorus, eating at an indoor restaurant or bar, and participating in an indoor, high-intensity exercise class. 

The local rates of vaccination are highest in South Coast communities.

As of last week, Public Health’s data dashboard showed residents in the Santa Maria Valley and the rest of the North County region represent 44.2% of the total community cases and 46.5% of the total COVID-19-related deaths to date, but only 27.3% of fully vaccinated people in the county.

Hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics, and pharmacies have appointment-based and walk-up vaccination opportunities throughout the county. The Public Health Department transitioned from large-scale clinics to smaller, mobile vaccination teams that create walk-up access at farmers’ markets, swap meets, churches, schools and other community sites.

Click here for vaccination clinic locations and more information. 

All COVID-19 vaccines are free and available to everyone regardless of health insurance coverage or immigration status.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only one available for people 12-17 years old, while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine are approved for use in anyone 18 and older.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.  

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at