Last week, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued revised guidelines for mask wearing as a COVID-19 control measure. Acknowledging decreasing infection rates and hospitalizations in much of the U.S., the CDC says that healthy adults can forgo mask wearing in communities with low or medium levels of COVID-19 infections. Persons in high level communities, and those with medical conditions that place them at risk should continue to wear masks in indoor public places.
The new guidance reflects a decision by the CDC to emphasize protection of individuals at high risk of serious illness from the virus. For employers, these revisions may serve as the basis for modification of workplace mask requirements. As previously reported in EmployNews, OSHA has relied on CDC guidance for determining reasonable COVID-19 preventative measures under the General Duty Clause. If an employer has dropped its mask mandate, and can demonstrate that this was done in conformance with the revised CDC guidance, OSHA should not have a legal basis for issuing citations in response to employee complaints over the decision. Any such change should be reflected in the employer’s written COVID-19 prevention and response plan, and should be updated if the guidance or levels of community infection warrant such modifications.