By Sara Powers

DETROIT (AP) — Face masks will be optional for U.S. union auto workers, as long as their factories are in counties that are not at high risk for the novel coronavirus.

A task force of officials from Ford, General Motors, Stellantis and the United Auto Workers union decided to drop a mask requirement at a meeting on Thursday.

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The union says in a statement that the group decided to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in making masks optional, regardless of vaccination status.

Automakers will tell workers when the changes are effective at their plants.

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More than 150,000 workers represented by the UAW began wearing masks at work in May of 2020, when factories reopened after an eight-week shutdown at the start of the pandemic. They’ve had to wear them the entire time, except for about a month last summer before the delta variant arrived in the U.S.

The task force made its decision Thursday after reviewing reports from medical experts and the CDC guidelines. Automakers will continue to obey local and state mask requirements if they’re in effect, the statement said.

The statement says the task force will monitor data and make adjustments as needed. The union and task force recommend that workers get vaccinations to fight the disease.

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