CDC Updates Mask Guidance- What it Means for Employers

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Tuesday, July 27th that it would be amending previous guidelines regarding the use of masks for vaccinated individuals in indoor settings.  Prior to that date, the CDC advised that individuals who had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 no longer had to wear masks in indoor settings.  The CDC still recommended the use of masks for unvaccinated individuals.  The CDC now recommends that vaccinated individuals continue to wear masks indoors in areas with “substantial” and “high” transmission of COVID-19.  This includes two-thirds of all US counties, as more than 72 million Americans live in a state where less than 50 percent of residents have been vaccinated.

In light of this new guidance, some jurisdictions are considering a return to mask mandates.  Nevada became the first state to reenact its mask mandate in response to the guidance.  Los Angeles County, CA, St. Louis County, MO, and Provincetown, MA had already reenacted their mandates prior to the new guidance, leading the way for other counties and cities.  Some jurisdictions face an uphill battle at the state level, however, as executive orders initially mandating mask use have expired, and state governments have openly opposed or questioned the legality of the mandates.  Missouri’s attorney general has already filed a lawsuit against St. Louis County, challenging their newly implemented mask mandate.

While the new CDC guidance recommends universal indoor masking for all students, staff, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status, states such as Arkansas, Iowa, and Texas have passed laws prohibiting mask mandates in schools.  Public schools do rely on federal funding, however, so an interesting intersection of laws could take place if the federal government decides to enact legislation or an executive order requiring masks in schools.  Although the trend in states with Republican governors is to prohibit these mandates in the schools, other jurisdictions such as Boston and Madison, WI have taken the opposite approach.

While the Delta variant heats up and COVID-19 cases continue to rise, states with the highest rates of COVID-19 transmission may see the lowest level of protection at the state and local government level.  Laws banning mask mandates and proof of vaccine requirements have passed in some of the hardest hit states, and private lawsuits challenging mask mandates have been filed across the country.  While the CDC now encourages both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals to mask up in areas of high transmission, it remains to be seen how the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of these jurisdictions will respond to these guidelines.  And could federal executive or legislative action be on the way to untangle this patchwork of state and local regulations?  Stay tuned to the expert attorneys at myHRcounsel for the latest on CDC guidelines and federal, state, and local response.