OC residents and businesses grapple with masks and vaccine check policies as coronavirus reopens

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Orange County residents, local businesses and employees navigate a new world of relatively zero pandemic restrictions – compared to last summer – as questions arise over how to verify whether workers and customers are vaccinated.

The decision to verify the immunization status of people is left to companies and employers, with the exception of large covered sites with more than 5,000 people.

The questions also come after a baffling string of directives from members of the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board – an occupational safety regulator – over the past month.

While members of the Workplace Safety Council ultimately voted to allow fully vaccinated people to drop their masks at work and align with guidelines from the state’s public health department, Safety Council no. did not explain how exactly companies could check if their employees are vaccinated.

[Read: Fully Vaccinated Workers in OC Can Now Drop Their Masks While on the Job]

“Fully vaccinated” means that the employer has documented that the person received, at least 14 days before, either the second dose of a series of two-dose COVID-19 vaccines or a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine “, indicates the guidelines.

Officials from the State Department of Industrial Relations said it was largely up to employers to verify whether their workers were vaccinated.

“The vaccination status must be documented. The revision [guidelines do] not specify a particular method. The employer must record the immunization status of any employee not wearing a face covering indoors and this record must be kept confidential, ”officials said in a June 24 email.

That means employers can check someone’s immunization record or use an honor system, officials said – similar to general guidelines from the California Department of Public Health.

“The state is quite interesting – it gives companies the ability to self-certify, instead of proving to everyone. But to be perfectly safe, you probably need to assess this. It is very difficult for public companies, like retailers and restaurants, etc., to ask the public to show proof of vaccine before ordering a burger, ”said Lucy Dunn, President and CEO of the Orange County Business Council.

An employee at an Orange County family entertainment park disinfects frequently touched surfaces. June 15, 2021. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voix d’OC

But, Dunn said checking immunization status in workplaces like offices would be a good idea.

“When you are in an office or in closer places indoors, it makes sense to have all the tools in the toolbox just to enable employers to keep workers and customers safe,” he said. she declared.

Daniel Parker, epidemiologist and public health expert at UC Irvine, echoed the sentiment.

“You can’t demand that everyone at the grocery store be vaccinated, it sounds like an operational nightmare to me. But where I see it is in the workplace, especially when you have people crammed into a tight space, ”Parker said.

Given the rise of the Delta variant, Parker said having everyone wear masks in places where vaccination status cannot be verified is ideal because the variant appears to be transmitted more easily.

“Of course, we can’t check everyone’s records before going to a grocery store, but you can still have face masks,” Parker said. “We could always work around these things.”

He also noted that there are people who cannot take the vaccine who should be considered.

“We all know someone who’s been through cancer, or something similar, where they’re immunocompromised and they can’t get the shot. They still work in the grocery stores. I get the feeling that we forget that it is not as simple as if you want the vaccine, you can get it. “

Daniel Parker, epidemiologist and public health expert at UC Irvine

State officials rolled out a digital vaccine verification program last month so people can download their documents to their phones as the economy reboots and some companies ask their employees to verify their vaccination status.

Gloria Alvarado, executive director of OC’s Federation of Labor, said she and other local union leaders were happy with the state’s vaccine documentation system.

“This tool is therefore very useful. Not only for workers, but when you travel it will make a big difference, ”Alvarado said in a telephone interview on Wednesday, adding that it would be useful for international flights.

“It’s just an additional system for people who have chosen to be vaccinated,” she said.

Alvarado also said some employers require documents on vaccines, while others use the honor system before people can drop their masks at work.

Dunn said she saw a similar approach from local employers and added that she was not aware of any companies checking the immunization status of their clients.

Digital documentation is also an issue that has received a lot of local criticism from some Orange County residents.

Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voix d’OC

In May, OC supervisors barred the county health-care agency from examining the possibility of issuing digital vaccine documents to people following waves of protests at board meetings.

Many residents spoke of privacy concerns.

Others compared the documents to the Holocaust, relating it to the yellow stars that Nazi Germany had on Jews.

The comparisons angered leaders of the local Jewish community.

[Read: OC Supervisors Cancel Digital Coronavirus Vaccine Records, Hundreds of People Rail Against Vaccine Passports & OC Jewish Community Calls For An End On Comparing Coronavirus Vaccine to Holocaust]

Dunn and Alvarado both said they wanted county supervisors to approve the digital documentation service.

Meanwhile, Parker said he was concerned that a vaccine-resistant variant might emerge in areas of the world where the virus is spreading unhindered.

“There are so many cases around the world – the pandemic is not over. This means that all of these cases are occurring in places where there is no vaccine, few vaccines – this opens up a lot of possibilities for the emergence of variants where it could be more transmissible, more deadly, evade vaccines. We must therefore remain vigilant. ”

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter. You can reach him at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @SpencerCustodio

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