Bay Area doctors react to Cal/OSHA’s decision on face masks in the workplace

Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – Some workers may no longer have to wear masks in the workplace.

After a more than 9 hour meeting Cal/OSHA decided that if all employees in a workplace are vaccinated, they do not have to wear masks.

If someone is not vaccinated, everyone has to wear masks.

It is a bit more strict than the CDC guidelines but I’m told that’s because Cal/OSHA is focused on what is safest for the employee and not necessarily what makes the most sense for the business.

“The CDC guidance does not account for extended exposure in the workplace where employees do not have the same choices about exposure risk as individuals in the public,” Dr. George Rutherford said.

“You want to protect the most vulnerable workers and I think to that end it makes sense to me,” Dr. Peter Chin-Hong said.

After a more than 9 hour meeting with dozens of public comments, Cal/OSHA decided to let some workers go without masks.

The guidelines say indoors unless everyone in the room is vaccinated people must still wear their masks.

Outdoors, vaccinated workers can go without their masks.

Infectious disease specialists Dr. Peter Chin Hong says the more he thinks about the decision the more he believes it makes sense.

“There are still outbreaks happening in the workplace. I think many of these outbreaks are undercover because we’ve been so inundated with the optimism of vaccines,” Dr. Chin-Hong said.

Professor of epidemiology George Rutherford also thinks it’s a safe decision but there could have been more of a middle ground.  

“To have an intermediate point where you have to access the vaccination level of employees and if it’s above a certain level you don’t have to wear masks and if it’s below a certain level you do,” Dr. Rutherford said.

Dr. Rutherford says the number of people vaccinated makes a difference.

“It depends on what proportion of the population is unvaccinated. If 80 percent of the people are unvaccinated, yeah, absolutely it makes total sense for them to wear masks. if one person out of 100 is unvaccinated then it makes almost no sense at all.”

Leaders with Cal/OSHA say they will continue to evaluate what makes the most sense.

“The standards board voted last night to form a subcommittee to look at making additional changes in response to all the concerns there are,”Eric Berg with Cal/OSHA said.

If Governor Newsom or an individual municipality decides to have different guidelines than what Cal/OSHA has set, that could impact businesses as well.

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