The CDC released updated guidance yesterday that recommends all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask in “public indoor settings” that are located in areas of substantial or high transmission of COVID-19.
However, the CDC does not define “public indoor settings,” which creates confusion, particularly for employers. It’s arguable that public setting means any public place where persons congregate, including offices, workplaces, and related settings, though some may interpret “public setting” narrowly to mean areas open to the general public.
Impact of the Delta Variant
The changed guidance comes as confirmed coronavirus infections nationwide have quadrupled in July 2021, from about an average of 13,000 cases per day at the start of the month to more than 56,000 cases today. Based on preliminary research, fully vaccinated individuals who become infected with the Delta variant can spread the virus to others.
To reduce the risk of infection with the Delta variant and thus spreading of the virus, the CDC now recommends that fully vaccinated people, among other things, wear a mask in public indoor settings, if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission, and wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission, if they or someone in their household is (1) immunocompromised, (2) at increased risk for severe disease, or (3) if someone in their household is unvaccinated.
What Does This Mean for Texas Employers?
After carefully relaxing mask requirements for vaccinated employees based on prior CDC guidance, many Texas employers are now wondering if they should mandate face masks in the workplace again, such as in break rooms or meeting rooms. The answer is: maybe. In considering whether to update your workplace rules for face masks, remember Governor Abbott’s ban on mask mandates for public employers is still in effect.
In the meantime, private employers may need to consider implementing masks for all employees based on the CDC’s updated guidance. Further, employers should continue to take safety measures to protect unvaccinated and other high-risk employees in the workplace. Although the CDC’s guidance is not binding on employers, it has set the foundation for all workplace safety programs during the pandemic.
Additionally, OSHA directs employers to the CDC’s guidance for establishing a safe workplace. Employers who want to stay aligned with OSHA’s guidance may take the safer route and require masking in public settings in workplaces, if the workplace is located in a high transmission area. Although Texas public employers may not require face masks, they may “highly encourage” the use of face masks in the office or other high traffic settings.
If your business operates in an area of high or substantial transmission of COVID-19, you should consider reviewing and possibly revising your current face mask policy. The CDC’s transmission rate data is updated daily and according to this data, most of Texas’ large counties fall within the high transmission category, including Dallas, Bexar, Harris, Travis, and Tarrant Counties. You can look up your county here to see if you fall in an area of substantial or high transmission.
Questions? Please feel free to contact Monty & Ramirez LLP