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OSHA advises restaurants and other workplaces to put masks back on

The recommendation applies to restaurant workers in high-risk areas, regardless of whether they've been vaccinated.
Photograph: Shutterstock

In a backslide toward the safety protocols of a year ago, OSHA is urging restaurants and other employers in areas with resurging COVID-19 infection rates to require that employees wear masks again, regardless of their vaccination status.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is also encouraging employees to re-mask even if they’ve been inoculated, and particularly if they have a health condition that could worsen a case of COVID.  

All workers are also advised to get tested for coronavirus between three and five days after a suspected exposure. Restaurants are required by law to pay employees for the time needed to get tested.

The new, more stringent recommendations were issued Friday. OSHA described the update as a catchup with changes in the safety recommendations that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had issued for all Americans on July 27.

The CDC reversed its stance on masks that day, noting that the delta variant of coronavirus had triggered a surge in new COVID cases within more than 75% of the nation. It advised that face coverings be worn again in public indoor spaces and at outdoor gatherings, even by individuals who’ve been inoculated, to flatten the spike in infections.

Officials noted that vaccinations provide a high level of defense against the delta strain, but inoculated individuals can pass the virus to children and unvaccinated adults.

OSHA’s workplace safety update followed a decision by several major U.S. cities to require proof of vaccination as a pre-requisite for entering restaurants. The vaccination mandates have been announced by New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia and New Orleans, with Los Angeles widely expected to join the group early next week.

OSHA’s updated guidelines do not have the force of law. Rather, they are typically the models used by state and local jurisdictions in crafting their own workplace safety rules.

Many restaurant operators say the mask mandates put in place last year sparked considerable conflict between employees charged with enforcing the requirements and guests who saw the regulations as an abridgment of their personal freedom.

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