The return of masking requirements at federal facilities comes amid concerns about the COVID-19 Delta variant.
The Office of Management and Budget on Tuesday evening reinstituted the federal government’s requirement that all federal workers, contractors and visitors to federal facilities must wear masks in areas that have seen a recent uptick in COVID-19 infections, as concerns about the virus’ Delta variant mount.
The change comes after the CDC on Tuesday announced it is recommending that even fully vaccinated Americans wear masks indoors in areas that have seen “substantial or high transmission.” Despite increasing numbers of people getting one of the COVID-19 vaccines, officials have seen a drastic uptick in the number of cases with the arrival of the Delta variant, and although vaccinated individuals are protected from the worst symptoms if infected, they can still transmit the new strain to unvaccinated people.
In an email to agencies obtained by Government Executive, OMB Deputy Director for Management Jason Miller instructed officials in areas experiencing substantial or high transmission to reinstitute a mask mandate and social distancing at federal facilities by Wednesday morning.
“Starting as soon as you are able, but no later than opening of business tomorrow, in areas of substantial or high community transmission, agencies must require all federal employees, onsite contractors and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask inside of federal buildings,” Miller wrote. “As of today, that includes the Washington, D.C., area. Federal employees, onsite contractors and visitors who are not fully vaccinated also need to continue to physically distance consistent with CDC guidance.”
Miller also instructed agencies to post signs at federal offices and information on their websites to clarify which masking requirements apply to each facility, and said more information will be forthcoming from the White House’s workforce safety task force.
“In the coming days, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force will release updated model safety principles to give additional guidance to all federal agencies as you update your COVID-19 workplace safety plans, as well as provide FAQs regarding the updated CDC guidance,” Miller wrote. “Following issuance of updated model safety principles, the task force will provide agencies with a checklist based on the updated principles to help guide agencies’ required updates to their respective COVID-19 workplace safety plans.”
Multiple news outlets reported on Tuesday that President Biden would issue a mandate that all federal employees and contractors be vaccinated or wear masks and submit to regular COVID-19 testing, although White House spokespeople have said the administration the has not made a final decision on the matter. The Veterans Affairs Department issued a vaccine mandate to its corps of health care workers on Monday.
“While no decision has been finalized, I will say that the attestation of vaccination for federal employees is one option under strong consideration,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Air Force One Wednesday. “So, attestation—what we mean by that is confirming—which means confirming vaccination status or abiding by stringent COVID-19 protocols, like mandatory mask wearing, even in communities not with high or subsequent substantial spread, and regular testing.”