Workforce

CDC mask guidelines and the federal workforce

office worker wearing a mask (FILEOPEN CREATION/Shutterstock.com) 

The federal government looks to be one step closer to reopening workplaces for vaccinated workers, contractors and guests without masking and distancing requirements.

The White House-led Safer Federal Workforce Task Force updated its information on mask-wearing and physical distancing to reflect recent changes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"In most settings, fully vaccinated people generally do not need to wear a mask or physically distance in Federal buildings or on Federal lands, except where called for by Federal, State, local tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations," reads the updated Frequently Asked Questions on the task force's website.

The update also instructs agencies to "communicate with employee representatives and satisfy any bargaining obligations prior to implementing changes to policies regarding mask wearing and physical distancing."

People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the second dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or 2 weeks after the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

Unvaccinated people will still need to mask and distance, the FAQ says.

Finally, the updates also make clear that these changes don't alter current occupancy limits or telework guidance set in an earlier OMB memo issued in January to implement Biden's executive order. That January memo encouraged agencies to maximize the use of telework and capped federal buildings at 25% of normal capacity during significant or high community transmission.

Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, has pointed to the change in CDC masking guidelines in his push for feds to go back to the office.

An OPM spokesperson told FCW via email that the current "maximum telework" posture is still in place.

"As a co-chair of the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, OPM is working closely with other members of the Task Force to ensure agencies are protecting the health and safety of the Federal workforce, and updating their plans and procedures as CDC guidance evolves," the spokesperson said on Wednesday.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) chairman of the Government Operations subcommittee within the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, asked acting OPM Director Kathleen McGettigan on Thursday, urging her to prioritize safety in planning.

"We must ensure that administration officials are cautious and prudent when requiring federal employees and contractors to return to federal office buildings," Connolly wrote in a May 20 letter. "I believe that federal employees who need to be in offices should be allowed to return as soon as is practicable. Yet we must balance the needs of continuing government operations … with the equally important obligation to protect the health and safety of federal employees."

About the Author

Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.

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