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On July 27, 2021, the CDC updated its Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People to add that fully vaccinated people should wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of community transmission of COVID-19 that are considered “high” (more than 100 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period) or “substantial” (50-100 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period).

The CDC further recommended that fully vaccinated people consider wearing a mask regardless of the level of transmission, particularly if they or someone in their household is immunocompromised or at increased risk of severe disease, or if someone in their household is not fully vaccinated. The CDC also added a recommendation that fully vaccinated people be tested three to five days following known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result. Fully vaccinated people also should get tested if they experience COVID-19 symptoms.

The impetus for the updated guidance was new evidence on the B.1.617.2 (“Delta”) variant, which has become increasingly prevalent in the United States. Although the CDC recognized that, even with the Delta variant, breakthrough infections occur only in a small percentage of fully vaccinated individuals, it revised its recommendations in light of scientific data suggesting that fully vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant can spread the virus to others at a more significant rate than with the ancestral strain.

One day after the CDC issued its updated recommendations, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) likewise relied on the new evidence of transmissibility of the Delta variant among vaccinated individuals to issue new guidance for face coverings, which immediately went into effect on July 28, 2021.

The guidance recommends universal masking indoors statewide. In California, persons who are not fully vaccinated continue to be required to wear masks in all indoor public settings. Additionally, the new guidance recommends that fully vaccinated people also mask in indoor public settings across California.
Moreover, the guidance now requires that masks be worn by the following individuals, regardless of vaccination status:

  • Individuals on public transit;
  • Individuals who are indoors in K-12 schools;
  • Individuals at emergency shelters and cooling centers;
  • Individuals in healthcare settings;
  • Individuals in state and local correctional facilities and detention centers;
  • Individuals in homeless shelters; and
  • Individuals in long-term care settings and adult and senior care facilities.

For employers, the CDPH guidance makes reference to the June 17, 2021, Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS), which remains in full effect for workplaces (see NFC West’s June e-Alert covering the new ETS requirements). We will be monitoring further guidance for employers in aligning the CDPH guidance with Cal/OSHA ETS. 

Additionally, the CDPH guidance does not preclude counties from imposing stricter health ordinances. For example, as of July 17, 2021, the County of Los Angeles required all people to wear masks in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status. Accordingly, employers should stay aware of any local or county health ordinances that may be more restrictive than the CDPH guidance.

As with most things COVID-related, guidance on mask-wearing and testing protocols continue to vacillate as the data evolves. We encourage employers to monitor the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker for the status of community transmission wherever they maintain workplaces and consider their indoor mask and other policies in light of the revised recommendations. NFC’s COVID-19 Response Team continues to monitor the constantly shifting guidance in this area and will alert our clients to new developments.


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