SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California workers who’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 can unmask as the state relaxed its COVID-19 safety rules and planned Friday to unveil an electronic verification system that Gov. Gavin Newsom denies is a “vaccine passport.”
Regulators on Thursday approved revised rules allowing fully vaccinated employees the same freedoms on and off the job, including ending most mask and physical distancing requirements. Newsom immediately issued an executive order waiving the usual 10-day legal review and allowing the changes to take effect as soon as they are filed with the secretary of state.
The rules apply in almost every workplace in the state, including offices, factories and retailers. They come after weeks of confusion as the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board flip-flopped over changes.
The measures adopted in a 5-1 vote, with one member absent, now conform with general state guidelines that took effect Tuesday by ending most mask rules for vaccinated people. Employers can require workers to show proof of vaccination or allow them to self-report and keep a record.
Those are the same choices available to places where the unvaccinated are still required to wear masks, ranging from restaurants to concert halls. Everybody must wear masks on mass transit and in health facilities.
However, what constitutes proof of vaccination has also prompted confusion: will only paper cards do, or can photos of the cards or digital confirmations do?
California already has a confidential public health database on the tens of millions of people who’ve been vaccinated. Earlier this week, Newsom said the state was working on a way for people to show that they have been vaccinated without having to carry their paper card.
Details were expected to be released Friday by the state public health and technology departments.
About two dozen states have banned state-required vaccine passports and some, including Texas, also barred businesses from requiring vaccinations.
But Newsom on Monday noted that the electronic verification system isn’t mandatory.
“It’s not a passport, it’s not a requirement,” Newsom said.
It wasn’t immediately clear how California’s effectively voluntary program would prove to employers trying to verify the vaccination status of workers and customers.
Under the rule changes, employers also have the right to require everyone to remain masked — vaccinated or not. And vaccinated employees will still be able to wear masks if they choose without facing retaliation.
The changes also end physical distancing in workplaces except for certain workers during major outbreaks. Vaccinated employees won’t need to be tested or quarantine unless they show symptoms, even if they have close contact with an infected person.
The California Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 14,000 members, said the changes “will help employers move forward and fully reopen.”
“What’s very difficult is to figure out what the balance is so that we’re doing the most good for the most people, but not at all dismissing the vulnerable in our population,” said Chris Laszcz-Davis, a management representative on the board.
But board member Laura Stock, an occupational safety expert who cast the lone opposition vote, warned that the pandemic is not over.
“This has real consequences that people can get sick and die due to exposure in the workplace,” Stock said.