Updated Guidance for the Use of Face Masks, Effective April 3rd

With the end of the California COVID-19 State of Emergency, it is appropriate to revise our current masking framework.  California’s path forward will be predicated on our individual, smarter actions that will collectively yield better outcomes for our neighborhoods, communities, and state.

Consistent with the SMARTER Plan and our adaptation of the SarsCoV-2 virus in our lives, California is updating its masking guidance. Effective April 3, 2023, the updated guidance is intended to provide information that each Californian should consider based on their unique circumstances. The updated guidance is unchanged for general community settings and continues to use a framework based on the CDC COVID-19 Community Levels. The updated guidance replaces mandatory masking requirements in high-risk settings with recommendations, which are also based on the CDC COVID-19 Community Levels.

Persons may use information about the current CDC COVID-19 community levels in their county to guide which prevention behaviors to use and when (at all times or at specific times) based on their own risk for severe illness and that of members of their household, their risk tolerance, and setting-specific factors. COVID-19 community levels are based on hospitalization rates, hospital bed occupancy, and COVID-19 incidence during the preceding period.  

Masks are especially important in settings where vulnerable people are residing or being cared for, and increasingly important as the risk for transmission increases in the community. Health care facilities and other high-risk setting operators should develop and implement their own facility-specific plans based on their community, patient population, and other facility considerations incorporating CDPH and CDC recommendations.

Regardless of the COVID-19 community levels, CDPH recommends: 

  • Wear a mask around others if you have respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, runny nose, and/or sore throat),
  • Consider wearing a mask in indoor areas of public transportation (such as in airplanes, trains, buses, ferries) and transportation hubs (such as airports, stations, and seaports).  This is increasingly important as the risk for transmission increases in the community.
  • When choosing to wear a mask, ensure your mask provides the best fit and filtration (respirators like N95, KN95 and KN94 are best). 
  • If you’ve had a significant exposure to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, wear a mask for 10 days.

*Those that are vulnerable include the unvaccinated, those that are immunocompromised, have certain disabilities, or have underlying health conditions, and those at risk of severe illness of death if they are infected with COVID-19.  Such persons should consider taking extra precautions.

**High-risk settings include:

  • Healthcare Settings
  • Long Term Care Settings & Adult and Senior Care Facilities
  • Persons younger than two years old. Very young children must not wear a mask because of the risk of suffocation.
  • Homeless shelters, Emergency shelters and cooling and heating centers
  • State and local correctional facilities and detention centers
  • Facilities that are high-risk settings should make respirators (e.g., N95s, KN95s, KF94s) with good fit or surgical masks available to any residents and staff who would like to use them.

In workplaces, employers and employees are subject to either the Cal/OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Non-Emergency Regulations or the Cal/OSHA Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) PDF Standard and should consult those regulations for additional applicable requirements. In certain healthcare situations or settings and other covered facilities, services and operations, surgical masks (or higher filtration masks) are required.

Finally, no person can be prevented from wearing a mask as a condition of participation in an activity or entry into a venue or business (including schools or childcare), unless wearing a mask would pose a safety hazard.  All businesses and venue operators are encouraged to improve ventilation and air quality in their facility to prevent airborne respiratory infections and improve indoor air quality.  

Local health jurisdictions and entities can implement additional requirements that go beyond this statewide guidance based on local circumstances. 

The following individuals should not wear masks:

  • Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a mask. This includes persons with a medical condition for whom wearing a mask could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a mask without assistance.CDPH.CA.gov Website
  • Persons for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.

These public health recommendations will be updated as CDPH continues to assess conditions on an ongoing basis.  If the CDC revises definitions of the COVID-19 Community Levels, CDPH will reassess these recommendations as well.

CDPH.CA.gov Website

EEOC Updates ‘Hearing Disabilities in the Workplace’ Guidance

Approximately 48 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America, which also notes that hearing loss has been shown to negatively impact nearly every dimension of the human experience — including perceptions of mental acuity and work performance, among many others.

Not knowing how to treat job applicants and employees who are deaf or hard of hearing, or have other hearing conditions, could lead to workplace discrimination if employers act on unfounded assumptions that workers with hearing conditions may cause safety hazards, increase employment costs or have trouble communicating.

To help shed light on the subject, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released its updated “Hearing Disabilities in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act” guidance, which covers many issues, including what types of reasonable accommodations applicants or employees with hearing disabilities may need, and how an employer can ensure that no employee is harassed because of a hearing disability or any other disability.

The guidance also describes easy-to-access technologies that can make providing a reasonable accommodation for a hearing disability, such as a hearing aid-compatible telephone headset and access to a video relay service, free or low-cost. New and updated examples describe how employers can use available technology, including:
  • Providing a deaf employee with a smart phone so they can receive text messages instead of relying on the “numerous communications made over the public address system … such as requests for sales representatives to report to different parts of the store to assist customers,” which the individual can’t hear; or
  • Training someone to operate a forklift using a visual alert on a smart watch, a vibrating pager with a light signal or a tablet mounted on the dashboard to communicate with a spotter.
“The practical questions and answers and realistic scenarios in this updated document will help educate employers on those responsibilities and employees about their rights,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows in a press release.

This guidance is not new policy and is only meant to provide clarity regarding existing requirements under the law.

Katie Culliton, CalChamber HRWatchdog

Tips for Remote Workers to Stay Cyber Secure

Roughly one-half to two-thirds of U.S. employees work remotely at least some of the time. This trend, spurred in large part by the COVID-19 pandemic, hasn’t gone unnoticed by cybercrooks. As such, it’s more important than ever to shore up the technology practices of at-home workers.

To help employers and employees protect at-home networks from cyber disasters, the National Security Agency (NSA) recently released a collection of best practices for securing home networks. What follows are some of the agency’s recommendations, along with advice from cybersecurity specialists.

1. Regularly train workers about at-home cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity expert Burton Kelso, owner of a tech support company in Kansas City, Mo., recommended constantly training at-home workers about cybersecurity.

“Cybercrime is a human problem. If there are going to be breaches to your network, it will be caused by your workforce, in-house and remote,” Kelso said. “You can have the best cyber defense in the world, but all it takes is one click from someone from your organization to bring things to a halt.”

Steve Petryschuk, director and technology evangelist at network management software provider Auvik Networks in Ontario, Canada, said educating at-home workers about best practices in cybersecurity should be at the top of every organization’s list of priorities for remote employees.

“There are several items that, while quite simple, can have a significant positive impact on the security of remote work,” Petryschuk said, “such as educating users to lock laptops when not in use and being aware of your environment when viewing confidential information or speaking about confidential items on a call.”

2. Install security software.

The NSA recommends equipping electronic devices used by remote workers with security software that combats viruses, malware, phishing attempts and other potential threats.

3. Use an up-to-date router.

Most remote workers use routers that jeopardize network safety, Kelso said. Any router being used by an at-home worker should be less than five years old. Otherwise, work-related data could be at risk.

The NSA further suggests that a router connected to the network of an at-home worker be a personal device, rather than a device supplied by an internet service provider. This gives an employee more control over their at-home network.

“Your router is the gateway into your home network. Without proper security and patching, it is more likely to be compromised, which can lead to the compromise of other devices on the network as well,” the NSA warned.

4. Connect to a VPN.

A virtual private network (VPN) enables a remote worker to safely access a company network by masking IP addresses and other information being transmitted from computers, Kelso explained.

“This provides an added layer of security while allowing you to take advantage of services normally offered to onsite users,” said the NSA.

5. Keep kids away from work devices.

A remote worker’s children might be tempted to play games on the employee’s computer or other work devices. That’s a recipe for trouble, according to Kelso, as “kids don’t care about cyber protection and can invite malware and ransomware into your devices.”

As such, kids shouldn’t use work devices belonging to their parents, experts said.

6. Be careful around smart devices.

Smart devices, such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Nest are constantly eavesdropping and may pick up company secrets, Kelso pointed out. This can happen even when you aren’t actively engaging with a device, according to the NSA. To safeguard those secrets, put these devices in a room where you aren’t discussing business or turn them off altogether.

7. Enable encryption.

Google refers to encryption as “one of the fundamental building blocks of cybersecurity.” It works by jumbling data into a secret code that can be unlocked only with a unique digital key.

All company devices should feature encryption capabilities, Kelso said.

“Encryption scrambles the information on your devices to keep the bad guys out. Data is king, and criminals want all of that information you have,” he said.

8. Create strong passwords.

You’ve almost certainly heard tech specialists preach about the importance of setting up strong passwords, but it bears repeating.

Kurt Sanger, a cybersecurity expert at Batten, an online marketplace for cybersecurity and home security headquartered in Seattle, said passwords should be unique and difficult to guess. So, if your name is Sam Lucas and you were born in 1983, your password should not be samlucas1983.

Muhlenburg and Lafayette colleges suggest that a password:

  • Be at least 12 characters.
  • Be a mixture of uppercase and lowercase letters.
  • Be a mixture of letters and numbers. 
  • Include at least one special character (such as @).

 “Sometimes, hacking can be as simple as someone guessing your password,” Sanger said. “That’s why experts recommend using unique, varied passwords that have many different characters.”

John Egan, SHRM