OC Residents and Businesses Grapple With Masks, Vaccine Verification Policies Amid Coronavirus Reopening – Voice of OC

Residents, local businesses and employees throughout Orange County are navigating a new world of relatively no pandemic restrictions compared to last Summer as questions are being raised on how to verify if workers and customers are vaccinated.

The decision to verify peoples vaccination status is left to businesses and employers, except for large indoor venues with more than 5,000 people.

The questions also come after a series of confusing guidelines from Californias Occupational Safety and Health Standards board members a workplace safety regulatory body over the past month.

While the workplace safety board members ultimately voted to allow fully vaccinated people drop their masks at work and align with the state Department of Public Health guidelines, the safety board didnt touch on how exactly businesses could verify if their employees are vaccinated.

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

Fully vaccinated means the employer has documented that the person received, at least 14 days prior, either the second dose in a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series or a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, reads the guidelines.

Officials from the state Department of Industrial Relations said its largely up to employers on how theyll verify if their workers are vaccinated.

Vaccination status must be documented. The revised [guidelines do] not specify a particular method. The employer must record the vaccination status for 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 someones vaccination record or use an honor system, officials said similar to the overall guidelines from the California Department of Public Health.

The state is kind of interesting theyre giving businesses the option of self attestation, versus everyone showing proof. But to be perfectly safe, you probably have to assess that. Its very hard for the public-facing businesses, like retailers and restaurants, etc., to ask the public to show proof of vaccine before they order a hamburger, said Lucy Dunn, president and CEO of the Orange County Business Council.

But, Dunn said verifying vaccination status in workplaces like offices would be a good idea.

When youre in an office setting or places with closer quarters indoors, it does make sense just to have every tool in the toolbox just to make it easier for employers to keep workers safe and to keep customers safe, she said.

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

You cant require everyone at the grocery store to be vaccinated, that sounds like an operational nightmare to me. But where I do see it is in workplaces, especially when you have people crammed in together in a tight space, Parker said.

Given the rise of the Delta variant, Parker said making everyone wear masks in places where vaccine status cant be verified is ideal because the variant appears to transmit easier.

Of course we cant check everybodys records before they go into a grocery store, but you could still have face masks, Parker said. We could still work around these things.

He also noted theres people who cant take the vaccine that should be taken into consideration.

We all know somebody whos been through cancer, or something similar, where theyre immunocompromised and they cant take the vaccine. Theyre still working in grocery stores. I feel like were forgetting that its not as simple as if you want the vaccine, you can get it.

State officials rolled out a digital vaccine verification program last month so people can download their documents to their phone as the economy restarts and some businesses are asking their employees to verify their shot status.

Gloria Alvarado, executive director of the OC Labor Federation, said she and other local labor leaders are pleased with the states vaccine documentation system.

So this tool is very helpful. Not only for workers, butk when you travel its going to make a big difference, Alvarado said in a Wednesday phone interview, adding it would be helpful for international flights.

Its just an additional system for people who chose to be vaccinated, she said.

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

Dunn said shes seen a similar approach by local employers and added she doesnt know of any businesses verifying the vaccine status of their customers.

The digital documentation is also an issue thats received a lot of local criticism from some Orange County residents.

In May, OC Supervisors stopped the county Health Care Agency from looking into issuing people digital vaccine documents following waves of protests at board meetings.

Many residents cited privacy concerns.

Others compared the documents to the Holocaust, relating it to yellow stars Nazi Germany made Jews wear.

The comparisons drew the ire of local Jewish community leaders.

[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 hes concerned a vaccine-resistant variant could pop up in areas of the world where the virus is spreading unimpeded.

Theres just so many cases globally the pandemic is not over. What that means is all those cases happening in places where theres no vaccine, few vaccines it brings up lots of possibilities for variants to emerge where it could be more transmissible, more deadly, evade vaccines. So we need to stay vigilant.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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OC Residents and Businesses Grapple With Masks, Vaccine Verification Policies Amid Coronavirus Reopening - Voice of OC

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