The Office of Management and Budget informed agencies following a change in public health guidance.
Following the new public health guidance issued last week, the White House said fully vaccinated federal employees, contractors and visitors are no longer required to wear masks in federal buildings.
The Office of Management and Budget sent all federal agencies an email to supplement the updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday, which said vaccinated individuals do not need masks outside and in most indoor settings, prompting some confusion for states, municipalities and businesses. As of Monday afternoon 59.7% of U.S. adults had received at least one vaccine dose and 47.1% were fully vaccinated, according to the CDC’s data.
“For now, this change related to masking is the only change to federal workplace COVID-19 safety guidance – maximum telework and workplace occupancy limits remain in place – but we will continue to update based on public health guidance,” said OMB’s message. “If you are not fully vaccinated (at least two weeks past your final dose), please continue to wear a mask consistent with the requirements set forth in your agency workplace safety plan.”
OMB said these changes are consistent with the protocols outlined in President Biden’s executive order on protecting the federal workforce and OMB guidance from January. The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force will update its frequently asked questions online. (It previously said in February that agencies could pursue discipline for employees who didn’t follow the president’s mask mandate).
Also, “OMB, through the President’s Management Council, with [the Office of Personnel Management] and [General Services Administration], will continue to work with your agencies on the planning already underway related to the federal personnel policies and work environment for after it is safe for increased return of federal workers to the physical workplace,” said the email, which was first reported by NBC News.
After the CDC’s announcement, the Defense Department also lifted the mask requirement for vaccinated personnel.
Biden’s January executive order required masks in federal buildings and on federal lands, and applied not just to federal employees, but to those visiting post offices, federal courthouses, federal monuments and national parks.
“The executive order requires compliance with CDC guidelines on masking and other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and that includes the new guidance issued last week,” an OMB official told Government Executive on Monday.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during the briefing on Friday, “It may take a couple of days, but certainly I would expect on federal lands, federal properties that the [new] guidelines will be the guide.”
When asked about any changes to the federal transportation mask mandate, she said she did not have any updates, but said, “We’ll continue to look to them for guidance on what is safe on an airplane or a train or anything like that.”
The White House loosened its own mask requirements last week.
Related, the Justice Department is not going to ask employees for their vaccination status as they enter the agency’s buildings, which is a departure from guidance issued in February, The Hill reported on Monday.
Meanwhile, the CDC said in April that federal agencies could require COVID testing for employees.
As the country as a whole is grappling with how to handle the new guidelines, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday, “I would imagine within a period of just a couple of weeks, you’re going to start to see significant clarification of some of the actually understandable and reasonable questions that people are asking.”