Federal agencies begin to lift mask requirements for fully-vaccinated employees

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Agencies are lifting mask requirements for fully-vaccinated federal employees, contractors and visitors after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced changes to its national mask guidance last week.

Masks are no longer required for fully vaccinated federal employees, on-site contractors and visitors inside federal buildings, the Office of Management and Budget told agencies in an email last week.

Employees who are at least two weeks past their second COVID-19 vaccine dose no longer need to wear masks inside federal buildings. Those who are not fully vaccinated should continue to wear their masks, OMB said.

“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,” the OMB email reads.

The administration said its new guidance is consistent with the executive order President Joe Biden signed on his first day in office, which initiated a mask mandate for federal employees but instructed agencies to follow CDC practices.

Additional mask guidance is coming. The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, led by the Office of Personnel Management, General Services Administration and White House COVID-19 response team, will issue additional answers to frequently asked questions from agencies, OMB added.

The Hill first reported OMB’s initial mask guidance to agencies.

In the meantime, some agencies have provided more details about the new mask policies to their employees, though not all guidance is identical.

Kathleen Hicks, deputy defense secretary, lifted mask requirements for DoD personnel Thursday.

In a memo to senior Pentagon leadership, Hicks gave commanders and supervisors broad latitude to make some exceptions “to ensure a safe workforce” but offered no further details. DoD leaders, however, can’t ask employees about their vaccination status, nor can they use that information to make decisions about telework.

The Agriculture Department issued similar mask guidance to employees last Friday. It applies to USDA employees, on-site contractors, partners, volunteers, customers and visitors, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday in an email, which Federal News Network obtained.

Employees who work outside of a USDA facility will receive more information about mask expectations from their agency’s leadership, the department said.

“I want to personally thank each of you for your patience in getting us to this point,” Vilsack said. “I also want to once again encourage you, your friends, family and loved ones to get vaccinated if you haven’t yet. It is the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones and your community.”

USDA also remains under maximum telework for now, the department added. USDA is considering more permanent changes to its remote work policies and already loosened its pre-pandemic telework policy earlier this year.

The National Science Foundation said Monday it too would lift the mask requirement for fully-vaccinated employees, contractors and visitors.

“NSF remains in maximum telework status, and our 25% building occupancy limit remains in place,” Wonzie Gardner, NSF’s chief human capital officer, said in an email to employees, which Federal News Network obtained. “Out of consideration for your colleagues, we ask that you follow the safety measures and the masking and physical distancing guidance applicable to your vaccination status. In addition, only mission-essential travel is permitted, and all NSF-sponsored meetings remain virtual through Sept. 30, 2021.”

NSF will not require employees to return to the work site before Sept. 30, 2021, the agency said. Like USDA and other agencies, NSF is also developing its vision for telework and remote work.

“The remote work tiger team, established after the initial exploration of remote work, is collaborating to define potential policies on telework and remote work and implementation considerations,” Gardner said. “The team will deliver recommendations to NSF senior leadership at the end of June. Other discussions will be facilitated throughout the agency over the coming weeks.”

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency also detailed new mask guidance to employees on Monday.

The guidance may differ for spaces where CISA is a tenant, the agency said. In those situations, CISA employees should continue to follow mask guidelines from their building for common spaces, hallways and elevators, the agency said.

“If you are vaccinated and wish to continue to wear a mask in CISA or DHS workspaces, you may do so,” Nitin Natarajan, the agency’s deputy director, said Monday in an email to employees. “CISA will not request information about individuals’ vaccination status for the purposes of determining whether masking is required and the choice to wear a mask will not be questioned. In addition, temperature screening will no longer be required to enter DHS workspaces.”

Maximum telework and occupancy limitations remain in place at CISA, at least for now.  Acting Director Brandon Wales told employees last week that the agency would allow more personnel — not to exceed a 25% occupancy cap — inside CISA facilities starting June 15.

CISA will increase that number to 50% of all employees around Aug. 1, Wales said in an agency memo, which Federal News Network obtained. Travel restrictions may lift on or around Sept. 1, and CISA will implement new telework arrangements on that date as well.

The Social Security Administration, by contrast, provided a brief message to employees on Monday.

“You may have seen the recent update from the CDC about people who are fully vaccinated,” the email, which Federal News Network obtained, reads. “As we have said all along, we will continue to follow government-wide and CDC guidance.  We are getting additional information from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force and will update you as soon as possible about changes. We will also meet all applicable labor obligations.”

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