COVID-19: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: California Turns Purple, Masks Are Mandatory
Posted November 17, 2020

California Moves To The "Purple Tier"

Governor Newsom has announced that effective November 17, 2020, California is "pulling an emergency brake,” resulting in 94.1% of California’s population being moved to the “Purple Tier” (Tier 1 - Widespread) restriction level of California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy.

Governor Newsom indicated that this move backward is necessary because the data shows that “California is experiencing the fastest increase in cases we have seen yet – faster than what we experienced at the outset of the pandemic or even this summer. The spread of COVID-19, if left unchecked, could quickly overwhelm our health care system and lead to catastrophic outcomes.”

Under the purple tier, most business will once again need to immediately modify the manner in which they operate on a day-to-day basis. The State's Blueprint for a Safer Economy details the meaning of the different tiers for various business sectors; click here to view the Blueprint for more information.

It is important to watch this evolving situation closely and check your county's tier status on a daily basis. The State has noted that, “Tier assignments may occur any day of the week and may occur more than once a week when CDPH determines that the most recent reliable data indicate that immediate action is needed to address COVID-19 transmission in a county.”

As in the past, we can expect that the each local county government and health agency will provide additional local orders and information. Employers must review their local orders along with the State's orders to ensure compliance with all government mandates. You can find your County-specific information here.

New Guidance On Mandatory Face Coverings

California also issued updated “Guidance for the Use of Face Coverings” on November 16, 2020. You can find that guidance by clicking here.

This updated guidance supersedes the State’s earlier guidance (issued on June 18, 2020), and makes it mandatory on a state-wide basis to wear a face covering at all times when outside of the home, unless an express exemption applies. Exemptions come in two varieties – (1) setting-specific exemptions, and (2) individual exemptions.

For setting-specific exemptions, no mask is necessary for:

  • Persons in a car alone or solely with members of their own household.
  • Persons who are working in an office or in a room alone.
  • Persons who are actively eating or drinking, provided that they are able to maintain a distance of at least six feet away from persons who are not members of the same household or residence.
  • Persons who are outdoors and maintaining at least 6 feet of social distancing from others not in their household. Such persons must have a face covering with them at all times and must put it on if they are within 6 feet of others who are not in their household.
  • Persons who are obtaining a service involving the nose or face for which temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to perform the service.
  • Workers who are required to wear respiratory protection.
  • Persons who are specifically exempted from wearing face coverings by other CDPH guidance.

The following individuals are also exempted:

  • Persons younger than two years old. These very young children must not wear a face covering because of the risk of suffocation.
  • Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a face covering. This includes persons with a medical condition for whom wearing a face covering could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance. Such conditions are rare.
  • Persons who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
  • Persons for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines

These exemptions do not require employers to permit employees to work without masks. Note that persons exempted from wearing a face covering due to a medical condition who are employed in a job involving regular contact with others must wear a non-restrictive alternative, such as a face shield with a drape on the bottom edge, as long as their condition permits it. For the rare employee who cannot wear a non-restrictive alternative, consider a leave of absence as an appropriate accommodation.

Remember that mandatory mask-wearing is not new, nor should it be surprising. The data has repeatedly shown that masks protect both the wearer and those around them by limiting the release of infected droplets. California’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Dr. Mark Ghaly, stated, “Personal decisions are critical, and I am imploring every Californian to stay home if they can, wear a mask whenever they leave their homes, limit mixing, practice physical distancing and wash their hands.”

Employers are urged to echo this reminder to their workforces. As Governor Newsom said in his press release today, “Now is the time to do all we can – government at all levels and Californians across the state – to flatten the curve again as we have done before.”

For questions regarding COVID-19 or other employment issues specific to your company, contact the employment attorneys at LightGabler.

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