Saying COVID-19 is now “a pandemic of unvaccinated people,” Los Angeles County's public health director urged employers on Monday to verify workers' vaccination status to determine if they should be wearing masks at work, despite the state allowing a self-attestation honor system.
Although she expressed optimism that workers in the county will continue “doing what's right” and being honest about their vaccination status, Barbara Ferrer said the threat of COVID-19 variants -- such as the recently concerning “Delta” variant -- spreading among the unvaccinated population makes it essential to take all steps necessary to prevent virus transmission.
“I think that while there may be places where self-attestation can work well, at our worksites we're going to encourage all of our employers to actually verify the vaccination status of workers prior to, in fact, having people that are working closely together with other people who will be unmasked,” she said.
Get Southern California news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC LA newsletters.
Under rules approved by the state last week, vaccinated workers do not have to wear masks in the workplace, but those who are unvaccinated must continue wearing face coverings. Employers are required to document the vaccination status of workers, however, those workers are allowed to simply “self-attest” that they are vaccinated, rather than providing actual documentation.
But the rules also allow employers to require their workers to provide documentation of their vaccination status. If a worker refuses to provide it, the person will be considered unvaccinated and required to wear a face covering at the workplace.
Ferrer said worksites can be particularly problematic for virus spread among unvaccinated people, because employees often have little control over the amount and type of contact they have with other people.
“Currently, this is a pandemic of unvaccinated people who are at increasing risk for unknowingly incubating Delta variants and other variants of concern,” Ferrer said. “... At home, unvaccinated people may be able to control their risk by determining who enters their physical environment and from what distance they interact. However, unvaccinated workers at job sites often lack that kind of control."
“... Workers are often exposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of people on a daily basis, often face-to-face and in poorly ventilated areas,” she said. “All of this creates serious risk to unvaccinated workers. The best way unvaccinated workers can be protected is by wearing an appropriate face covering at work.”
To ensure that unvaccinated workers are wearing those masks, she said the county's guidance is for employers “not relying on self-attestation,” Ferrer said. She said employers should also consider maintaining physical partitions in situations where workers are in close contact with others, even though state guidance allows for such barriers to be removed. She also said many worksites will likely continue mandating masks by employees and customers alike, regardless of vaccination status.
The county has officially surpassed 10 million doses of COVID-19 administered, with 58% of the population aged 16 and over considered fully vaccinated, and 67% of the 16+ population at least partially vaccinated.
Ferrer again noted the lagging rates among the Black and Latino communities when compared to their white and Asian counterparts. The Black and Latino communities also continue to have the highest current rate of infections, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.
The county on Monday reported three additional COVID-19 deaths, raising the countywide death toll to 24,444. Another 124 cases were confirmed, putting the cumulative death toll at 1,247,742.
According to state figures, there were 220 people hospitalized in the county due to COVID-19 as of Monday, up from 213 on Sunday. There were 55 people in intensive care, up from 45 the previous day.