***June 16, 2021 Update: On June 15, Governor Cuomo announced that 70% of adult New Yorkers have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. As a result, the New York Forward industry guidance is now optional for offices, retail, food services, gyms, and other commercial settings. The guidance remains mandatory for large-scale indoor event venues, schools, public transit, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and health care settings. In all settings, non-fully vaccinated individuals must continue to wear masks in accordance with the state’s implementation of CDC guidance.***
On June 8, 2021, New York State issued updated Interim Guidance for Office Based Work, which provides guidance to businesses regarding capacity limits, face coverings, screening requirements, and more. This latest update, in large measure, was intended to incorporate the CDC’s guidance exempting fully vaccinated individuals from face covering and social distancing requirements in most settings, which was adopted by New York State on May 19, 2021.
Before summarizing the new office guidance, it is important to note that on June 7 (the day before the revised office guidance was issued) Governor Cuomo announced that nearly all industry-specific state reopening guidelines would become optional once 70% of adults in New York State have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, except that individuals who are not fully vaccinated must continue to wear face coverings and social distance while indoors. According to the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, as of June 13, 2021, 67.3% of adult New Yorkers have received at least one dose of a vaccine. Thus, at least as of the date of publication, the below guidelines are mandatory until the state reaches the 70% threshold.
Some of the more notable updates to the Office Guidance include the following:
- Proof of Vaccination: To ascertain vaccination status, businesses may request proof of vaccination, or may rely on self-reporting (i.e., the honor system).
- Face Coverings: In accordance with CDC guidance, fully vaccinated individuals are no longer required to wear masks in office settings. According to the guidance, an individual is considered fully vaccinated 14 days after “having completed the COVID-19 vaccination series of an FDA or DOH authorized vaccine.” Non-fully vaccinated individuals must continue to wear face coverings – even after the 70% vaccination threshold is met.
- Social Distancing: Fully vaccinated individuals are no longer required to maintain six feet of distance when interacting with other fully vaccinated individuals in the office. Non-fully vaccinated individuals are still required to practice social distancing, even after the 70% vaccination threshold is met.
- Fully Vaccinated Sections: The updated guidance permits businesses to maintain vaccinated and non-vaccinated sections in the office. If all individuals are vaccinated, businesses may allow for individuals to be spaced at full capacity without six feet of distancing. However, where individuals are not fully vaccinated or vaccination status is unknown, or where vaccinated and non-vaccinated employees are together, businesses must continue to require physical distancing.
- Daily Health Screenings: Daily health screenings are still required for all employees, regardless of vaccination status. Specifically, the guidance requires employers to implement daily health screenings, which should include questions about COVID-19 symptoms, close contacts, and positive tests. The health screening requirements also changed in two notable ways: (1) employees may answer “no” to the question about COVID-19 symptoms if their symptoms stem from a pre-existing medical condition, such as allergies or migraines, and the symptoms are not new or worsening; and (2) fully vaccinated employees, or employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the past three months, may answer “no” to the question about contact with others who have tested positive COVID-19, because under CDC and NY guidance, such individuals need not quarantine after such exposure.
In other ways the interim guidance has had little impact upon previous guidance and requirements for businesses. For instance, businesses should continue to ensure meeting spaces are well-ventilated, and whenever possible, encourage video conferencing. Businesses should also continue to provide protective equipment for employees and continue to provide training on proper usage of protective equipment, as well as proper cleaning and sanitization procedures. Business must also continue to adhere to the hygiene and cleaning requirements set forth by the CDC and DOH. Finally, business remain responsible for cooperating with state and local health department contact tracing efforts and for reporting positive cases to the authorities in a prompt manner.
As New York residents continue to receive their vaccinations, businesses should closely monitor Governor Cuomo’s and the State’s announcements related to industry guidance for reopening and the rescission of COVID-19 restrictions.
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Proskauer’s cross-disciplinary, cross-jurisdictional Coronavirus Response Team is focused on supporting and addressing client concerns. Visit our Coronavirus Resource Center for guidance on risk management measures, practical steps businesses can take and resources to help manage ongoing operations.