Fedweek

Federal worksites should follow local pandemic-related safety protocols if they are more restrictive than those of the general government-wide policy, the Biden administration has said.

Under previously announced policy, individuals who are not fully vaccinated—meaning they are not at least two weeks past receiving the one-dose vaccine or the second of the two-dose vaccines—must wear a mask in federal buildings or on federal land. For those who are fully vaccinated, policies vary according to CDC data on the level of community transmission by county (at https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#county-view) – they generally must wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of high or substantial transmission, but not in areas of low or moderate transmission, “except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, or regulations.”

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The latest guidance adds that “where a locality imposes more protective pandemic-related safety requirements, those requirements should be followed by federal employees and onsite contractors, in federal buildings, in federally controlled indoor worksites, and on federal lands within that locality.”

That comes as many state and local governments have been issuing mandates on mask wearing, social distancing and other precautions due to the latest surge in Coronavirus infections, largely due to the “delta variant.” For example, the CDC shows that about 84 percent of counties are rated as areas of high transmission and 10 percent as areas of substantial transmission, with 3 percent moderate and 3 percent low. That’s up over just the last two weeks from 60, 19, 16 and 5, respectively.

The newest guidance says that agencies have discretion in determining which counties are relevant to their localized policies, for example taking into account transmission rates where employees live or are regularly sent to work.

It adds: “Agencies should assess transmission rates in a given area at least weekly to determine proper mask-wearing requirements. When the level of transmission related to a given federal facility increases from low or moderate to substantial or high, federal agencies should put in place more protective safety protocols consistent with CDC guidelines and guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force as soon as operationally feasible. The agency should not wait, for example, for a multi-day or multi-week trend to be established.”

However, if the level of transmission related to a given federal facility is reduced from high or substantial to moderate or low, an agency must wait at least two weeks to assure that the rate remains at the lower level before loosening its policies.

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