California Takes Action to Curb COVID-19 Transmission 

November 19, 2020
On November 16, 2020, amidst an increase in COVID-19 cases in California and nationwide, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced new immediate actions to curb COVID-19 transmission, including pulling an “emergency brake” in California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy Framework (the “Blueprint Framework”) and strengthening the state’s face covering guidance. These actions will remain in effect “until the State Public Health Officer determines it is appropriate to make modifications based on public health conditions and data.”

On November 16, 2020, Governor Newsom announced that California is pulling an “emergency brake” in the Blueprint Framework. Under the Blueprint Framework, every county in California is assigned to a tier based on its test positivity and adjusted case rate. The “emergency brake” results in 94.1 percent of California’s population being placed in the most restrictive tier of the Blueprint Framework, effective November 17. A comprehensive listing of which activities and businesses are permitted to open in each of the Blueprint Framework’s four tiers is available here. More information about county tier status, date of tier assignment, adjusted case rate for tier assignment, and county-wide testing positivity can be found here.

Additionally, “in light of the recent, unprecedented surge in rate of increase of cases,” the following changes to the Blueprint Framework are effective until further notice:
  • Tier assignments may occur any day of the week and may occur more than once a week when the California Department of Public Health (the “CDPH”) determines that the most recent reliable data indicate that immediate action is needed to address COVID-19 transmission in a county.
  • Counties may be moved back more than one tier if the CDPH determines that the data support the more intensive intervention. Key considerations will include the rate of increase in new cases and/or test positivity, more recent data as noted below, public health capacity, and other epidemiological factors.
  • The most recent reliable data will be used to complete the assessment.
  • Counties will be required to implement any sector changes the day following the tier announcement.
  • County requests for tier adjudication will not hold the county in the current tier during adjudication, and tier adjudication requests are unlikely to be approved unless unique, extreme circumstances and data are submitted justifying how the county is not impacted by the statewide increases in COVID-19 cases.

On November 16, 2020, the CDPH also issued revised “Guidance for the Use of Face Coverings.” Under this revised guidance, face coverings are required to be worn statewide at all times when outside of the home, unless a specified exception applies. 
Setting-Specific Exemptions. Individuals are exempt from wearing face coverings in the following specific settings:
  • When in a car alone or only with members of their own household.
  • When working in an office or room alone.
  • When actively eating or drinking, provided that they are 6 or more feet away from persons who are not members of the same household or residence. Such individuals must have a face covering with them and put it on if within 6 feet of others who are not members of their household.
  • When outdoors and maintaining at least 6 feet of social distancing from others not in their household.  Such individuals must have a face covering with them at all times and must put it on if they are within 6 feet of others who are not in their household.
  • When obtaining a service involving the nose or face for which temporary removal of the face covering is necessary to perform the service.
  • When required to wear respiratory protection at work.
  • When specifically exempted from wearing face coverings by other CDPH guidance.
Exemptions for Certain Individuals. Certain individuals are exempt from wearing a face covering at all times, as follows:
  • Persons younger than two years old, due to the risk of suffocation.
  • Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a face covering. This includes persons with a medical condition for whom wearing a face covering could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance.
  • Persons who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
  • Persons for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.
The guidance also provides that persons exempted from wearing a face covering due to a medical condition who are employed in a job involving regular contact with others must wear a non-restrictive alternative, such as a face shield with a drape on the bottom edge, provided their condition permits it.
As the COVID-19 situation continues to develop, and federal, state, and local governments issue additional guidance, employers need to be cognizant of new guidance and requirements. For more information, please visit S&C’s page regarding Coronavirus updates.