The Biden administration has revised policies on mask wearing and screening testing in the federal workplace following last week’s change in CDC guidance on Coronavirus safety protocols from a focus on local infection numbers to a focus on trends and the strain on local healthcare systems.
Under new guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force that agencies are to put in place by this Friday (March 4), those policies generally will depend on whether the “COVID-19 Community Level” as determined by the CDC—at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/covid-by-county.html—is low, medium or high in the county where a facility is located.
Agencies are to review the CDC data weekly—it suggests on a Friday to determine policies for the following week—and:
· Where the rating is low, agencies do not need to require individuals to wear masks in a facility regardless of vaccination status, and do not need to utilize their screening testing program in that facility.
· Where the rating is medium, agencies do not need to require individuals to wear masks in a facility regardless of vaccination status, but should use their screening testing programs in that facility under the protocols they have established under guidance from the CDC and the task force.
· Where the rating is high, agencies should require individuals to wear masks in a facility regardless of vaccination status and consistent with CDC and task force guidance on mask-wearing, and should use their screening testing programs in that facility under the protocols they have established under guidance from the CDC and the task force.
(Under prior guidance, screening testing programs apply to unvaccinated employees who work onsite, plus those who do not work at a federal facility but who interact in person with members of the public as part of their job duties. Agencies generally are to test such employees at least weekly and may also test vaccinated employees under certain circumstances.)
However, “Where a locality imposes more protective pandemic-related safety requirements, those requirements should be followed in federal facilities within that locality.” Further, “some settings, such as high-risk congregate settings, might include additional layers of prevention. In addition, recommendations based on COVID-19 Community Levels may not apply in healthcare settings, which should follow relevant regulations and guidance.”
It adds that even where wearing masks is not required, “Agencies should ensure that individuals can wear a mask if they choose” and that “people with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask for the required period of time.” Under prior guidance, those periods can be 5, 10 or another number of days depending on the circumstances.