Speaking publicly Monday without masks on for the first time in about 15 months, Santa Clara County leaders announced that they are rescinding a May 18 order that regulated COVID-19 vaccination data and other requirements for businesses and offices.
Because new rules from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) are in place, which governs businesses, the county's order is no longer necessary, county Counsel James Williams said.
The county's May 18 health order required all businesses and government entities to determine the vaccination status of their personnel, either through simple self-reporting or proof of a COVID-19 vaccination card from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It didn't require reporting the information to the county and it allowed individuals to "decline to state" their status, but those individuals were counted as unvaccinated.
Now, the county will follow Cal/OSHA regulations, which likewise require businesses to document their employees' vaccination status, but don't specify a particular method. The employer must also keep a confidential record of the vaccination status for any employee not wearing a face covering indoors. Cal/OSHA regulations define an employee as "fully vaccinated" if the employer has documentation reflecting that the employee completed their vaccination series at least 14 days ago.
The new Cal/OSHA workplace rules include the following:
• Allow workers who are fully vaccinated to go without face coverings.
• Fully vaccinated employees without symptoms don't need to be tested or quarantined after close contacts with COVID-19 cases unless they have symptoms.
• Face coverings aren't required outdoors except during outbreaks when 6 feet of distance can't be maintained, regardless of vaccination status.
• No physical distancing or barrier requirements are necessary regardless of employee vaccination status with some exceptions.
Face coverings are still required under California Department of Public Health rules, regardless of vaccination status, in health care settings, at schools, child care and youth settings, on public transit, in jails and correctional facilities and at homeless and emergency shelters.
Williams said the county's May 18 order currently remains in place only for businesses or government entities that have not yet completed two rounds of "ascertainment of vaccination status" of their personnel — a first round for all personnel and a second round for those who didn't indicate they were fully vaccinated. If those businesses and agencies complete the second round, the May 18 order no longer applies to them.
"We are pleased that the county's proactive vaccine ascertainment effort now allows employers in our community the ability to legally implement the new Cal/OSHA regulations. With today's announcement, once an entity has completed its second ascertainment of vaccination status, everyone should continue to follow the state's rules, but there are no broader local health orders in effect in Santa Clara County," Williams said in a press release
Monday's new county order includes recommendations to continue to keep the community safe from COVID-19 by encouraging people to get vaccinated; continuing to emphasize outdoor activities; avoiding travel if one is not fully vaccinated; continuing to regularly test for COVID-19 if one is not fully vaccinated; and, regardless of vaccination status, getting immediately tested if a person has COVID-19 symptoms.
Santa Clara County is one of the safest places to be in terms of COVID-19 because of its high vaccination rate and low and stable rates of the virus, county Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said. Eighty percent of residents ages 12 and older have been vaccinated with at least one shot and 71% are fully vaccinated.
"That is tremendous," Cody said.
She attributed the county's success in combating the disease to the public taking distancing and mask protocols seriously and also the high vaccination rate.
CDC data shows Santa Clara County has the highest vaccination rate among large counties in the U.S. and one of the highest vaccination rates among all counties, she said.
Officials will continue to target vaccination for the hardest-hit areas and where immunization rates are still the lowest. "Herd immunity" is localized in communities but doesn't apply to all. Individuals who haven't been vaccinated in some places within the county remain at risk because they are exposed to the virus. People with compromised immune systems, even if they are vaccinated, and children under age 12 are also still vulnerable, she noted.
Many people still can't get access to the vaccines due to job constraints, family obligations and transportation issues, she said.
She cautioned that the county, state and nation are still in the middle of a global pandemic and emerging variants, the consequences of which are still evolving and remain unknown.
"While we're safe here, the pandemic isn't over," she said.
Watch the full press conference: