Fedweek

The administration has revised policies regarding who must wear a protective face mask and maintain physical distancing in the federal workplace, the latest in a long series of changes that apparently has left many employees feeling confused and in some cases frustrated.

The latest policies—contained in guidance on the broader initiative to encourage employees to be vaccinated by subjecting them to stricter testing and other requirements otherwise—follows revisions by the CDC of general recommendations in light of the resurgence in Coronavirus infections, particularly those due to the “delta variant.”

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CDC standards in turn vary according to the level of community transmission, from high, to substantial, to moderate, to low – depending on the number of new cases per 100,000 persons and the rate of positive results from testing.

Those data, posted at https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#county-view, show that about 60 percent of counties are rated as areas of high transmission and 19 percent as areas of substantial transmission, with 16 percent moderate and 5 percent low.

Says the latest guidance: “Individuals who are not fully vaccinated must wear a mask regardless of community transmission level. In areas of high or substantial transmission, fully vaccinated people must wear a mask in public indoor settings, except for limited exceptions. In areas of low or moderate transmission, in most settings, fully vaccinated people generally do not need to wear a mask or physically distance in federal buildings or on federal land, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, or regulations.”

Further, stricter CDC policies for health care, transportation, correctional/detention and schools setting should be followed, it says.

It adds: “Fully vaccinated individuals might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission for a variety of reasons. Nothing in CDC guidance precludes an employee from wearing a mask, if the employee so chooses.”

Other points include:

• “Federal employees and onsite contractors who are not fully vaccinated or who decline to provide their vaccination status—or who are in an area of substantial or high transmission—must wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth, and that is in accordance with current CDC guidance. CDC recommends the following: disposable masks, masks that fit properly (snugly around the nose and chin with no large gaps around the sides of the face), masks made with breathable fabric (such as cotton), masks made with tightly woven fabric (i.e., fabrics that do not let light pass through when held up to a light source), masks with two or three layers, and masks with inner filter pockets. Agencies should not allow novelty or non-protective masks, masks with ventilation valves, or face shields as a substitute for masks.

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• “Individuals who are not fully vaccinated or who decline to provide information about their vaccination status—including employees, onsite contractors, and those visitors who are required to provide vaccination status—must maintain distance and properly wear masks. To the extent practicable, individuals who are not fully vaccinated or who decline to provide information about their vaccination status should maintain a distance of at least six feet from others at all times, consistent with CDC guidelines, including in offices, conference rooms, and all other communal and work spaces.”

• “In the vast majority of cases, employees who are not vaccinated due to disability or religious practices or beliefs will be able to follow the safety protocols for not fully vaccinated individuals as a reasonable accommodation. In the rare case where they cannot, or where it is otherwise required by law, other reasonable accommodations should be made, barring undue hardship. Some individuals may require accommodations under applicable law relating to masking requirements, and such accommodations should be in accordance with existing Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Guidance.”

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2021 Federal Employees Handbook