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U.S. Government Is Preparing an Emergency Rule to Protect Workers From Covid

Observers say a standard is coming soon; here’s what it might look like.

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Mask mandates are coming down across the country, even as Covid cases are rising in most states. But the Biden administration appears poised to reinstate masking and other social distancing rules for recalcitrant governors — at least in the workplace. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is preparing to issue new short-term regulations to protect workers from catching Covid-19 on the job, according to lawyers tracking the agency's efforts. They could be made public as early as this week, these lawyers say, and take effect soon after that.

Most private-sector employers in the U.S. must follow rules for workplace safety set either by OSHA or by state-run versions of the agency. OSHA and its state counterparts have received over 60,000 complaints about Covid-19 safety issues, according to the agency, but under the Trump administration, the agency refused to issue virus-specific safety regulations, known as an Emergency Temporary Standard. Instead, a handful of states, led by Virginia, established their own temporary standards. (In 2020, OSHA did conduct inspections of 369 private workplaces for Covid-19 practices under the Occupational Safety and Health Act's general duty clause, and levied $4.2 million in fines.)