Despite CDC mask guidance, Biden admin may still issue workplace mandate

Proposed emergency COVID workplace rule sent for review in April, before CDC issued new mask guidelines.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) may still issue a workplace mask mandate consistent with a January executive order from President Biden despite new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines that vaccinated Americans do not need to wear masks indoors. 

Biden’s Jan. 21 executive order directed his administration to “consider whether any emergency temporary standards on COVID-19, including with respect to masks in the workplace, are necessary.” The order set a deadline of March 15, which was missed.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at the time that the White House was giving OSHA, which is housed in the Department of Labor, “time to get it right and time to ensure it’s right.”

It was expected that an emergency temporary standard (ETS) on mask-wearing and potential other coronavirus mitigation practices would eventually be approved. A draft ETS, which is not publicly available, was sent to the Office of Management and Budget for review in late April.

But CDC guidance earlier this month potentially changed the situation, with the health agency issuing what many saw as an unexpected reprieve for vaccinated individuals from strict public health measures.

It’s unclear how those CDC guidelines might affect whether an ETS is issued by OSHA or what it might look like. A Department of Labor spokesperson did not address a question on how the CDC guidelines might affect a potential ETS on Monday. “The agency is committed to continually improve our ability to protect workers from exposure and hazards related to COVID-19,” the spokesperson said. 

A group of House Republicans on the Committee on Education and Labor sent a letter to Labor Secretary Marty Walsh on Monday asking him to put the brakes on any new workplace rules considering the proliferation of vaccines and the new CDC guidance.

“We write to express our strong disapproval of your decision to move forward with this ill-advised and unnecessary rulemaking,” the group wrote.