Skip to main content

Face Covering and Mask Requirements

1. Purpose:

  1. Wearing a mask or face covering can help reduce the transmission of SARS-COV2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.  A significant portion of individuals with COVID-19 lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and those who eventually develop symptoms can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.  Droplets and aerosols can contain infectious SARS-C0V2-2, remain suspended for hours, and be transported several meters from the source.  This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms.  Face coverings can reduce both the emission of virus when worn by an infectious person and reduce the uptake of virus when worn by a person in proximity to an infectious person. (1) 

  2. Masks and Face Coverings are not Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).  They are worn by a person to prevent community spread from an asymptomatic person.  PPE, on the other hand, is equipment that is worn by the person to protect themselves from real or potential hazards, e.g., safety glasses, lab coats, respirators, etc.  Mask with exhalation valves are not permitted.  Exhalation valve allows unfiltered exhaled air to escape so are not effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19.COVID-19.

2. The Requirement for Masks and Face Coverings:

Outdoors: Fully vaccinated individuals who have submitted proof of vaccination are no longer required to wear a face covering or physical distance outdoors, though they may choose to do so. 

Unvaccinated individuals are required to wear a face covering outdoors if physical distancing is not feasible.

Indoors: Fully vaccinated individuals who have submitted proof of vaccination are no longer required to wear a face covering or physical distance indoors, though they may choose to do so. Fully vaccinated individuals may gather and meet indoors on Cornell property, unmasked, within capacity limits set by New York state (the current indoor restriction is 250 people). 

Unvaccinated persons are required to wear a face covering indoors and practice physical distancing, unless alone in a cubicle, office, or other unit designated area following social distancing guidelines. (Note: For the intent of this procedure, a cubicle is defined as a space with three walls at least 5' in height.)

Visitors: Cornell University is open again to those wishing to visit. Certain public health restrictions remain in place for campus visitors, stay informed by visiting webpage.

3. Medical Accommodation

  1. Employees unable to wear a mask or face covering due to a medical condition or other protected reason may submit an ADA workplace accommodation, please contact the Medical Leaves Administration in Human Resources at

  2. Students unable to wear a mask or face covering due to a medical condition or other protected reason should contact Student Disability Services.

4. Procedures:

4.1 Putting on and Taking off a Mask or Face Covering

  1. It is advisable to clean hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol prior to putting on, touching covering, or removing your face covering.

  2. When taking off face-covering use the ear loops, straps, or equivalent from behind the head to remove face-covering, do not touch the front of the covering.

4.2 Care, Use, Reuse, and Conserve

  1. Units should not hoard or stockpile face coverings and masks for their teams. Face coverings and masks should be ordered centrally through the e-SHOP.
  2. Use disposable coverings and masks until they become damaged, soiled, or wet. If a mask becomes damp from normal respiration, perspiration or from water, remove the mask and store in an uncontaminated area (e.g. paper bag, in belongings, or locker) to allow the mask to dry and then reuse when feasible.
  3. Use reusable coverings and masks until they become damaged, soiled, or wet. Damaged coverings should be disposed of.
  4. Personnel should have a backup covering or mask available.
  5. Reusable coverings should be routinely washed depending on the frequency of use. Standard washing practices and washing machine is satisfactory to properly wash a face covering.
  6. Face coverings and masks may not be readily available in the supply chain and deliveries frequently have long lead times. Personnel are requested to conserve and reuse masks as feasible.

4.3 Coverings Provided by Cornell and Employees

  1. Cornell University will provide face coverings to employees.
  2. Ordering from the Central Inventory
  • Facility and Campus Service is ordering, warehousing, and delivering face coverings (disposable, reusable). Orders will be fulfilled from the R5 Operations warehouse.

TO ORDER: Visit e-SHOP and select the link labeled Central inventory order form for critical supplies in the e-SHOP messages section of the home page.

Image of e-SHOP homepage

c. Employees may provide their own face coverings if they meet the following requirements:

  • Tightly woven fabrics, such as cotton and cotton blends

  • Two or three layers

  • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face

  • Be secured with ties, ear loops, or equivalent
  • Allow for breathing without restriction
  • Be able to be laundered without damage or change to the shape

5.  Additional Safety Precautions

  1. Wearing a face covering does not replace the need for social distancing or other efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. In addition to wearing cloth face coverings, remember to:
  • Personnel are to avoid contact with those who are sick, stay home if they are sick, and if they become sick at work, distance themselves from co-workers, contact their supervisor and go home.

  • Personnel should frequently clean hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Personnel should avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Personnel should practice good cough and sneeze etiquette.
  • Personnel are advised to routinely disinfect high touch points, facilities, work areas, personal electronics, and shared equipment and spaces.
  • For additional guidance, consult the COVID-19 Hierarchy of Controls.

6. N95 Respirators

  1. N95 respirators or masks continue to be in critical short supply so they must be reserved for healthcare workers, medical first responders and those performing the limited high-risk tasks directly supporting the continuity of healthcare, emergency responders, essential research or have other occupational exposure requiring N95 respiratory protection.
  2. In additional to healthcare related activities, other campus-related tasks that may introduce elevated risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission should be evaluated by Cornell Environment, Health and Safety to determine if additional respiratory protection beyond face covering is warranted.
  3. N95 respirators with exhalation valves are not effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 and are not permitted to be used as a face covering. (Examples of masks with valves: Example 1, Example 2)

7. Face Shields

  1. Currently, there are no studies that have evaluated the effects or potential benefits of face shields on source control, ie, containing a sneeze or cough, when worn by asymptomatic or symptomatic infected persons.  There is a general consensus that they are better than nothing; however, they are suboptimal to masks.  As such, face shields should not be viewed as an option to choose in lieu of face covering.  Accommodation request to use a face shield instead of a mask should be reviewed on a case-specific basis with an understanding of what other mitigating factors, such as scrupulous attention to distancing, or other accommodations can be implemented.  Masks and distance are truly the very best means we have to control spread.  

8. Resources

8. References

  1. Ueki H, Furusawa Y, Iwatsuki-Horimoto K, et al. Effectiveness of Face Masks in Preventing Airborne Transmission of SARS-CoV-2. mSphere 2020; 5: e00637-20.

More Information

Revised 5-4-2021 - section 2 revised to state vaccinated persons do not need to wear mask in small groups outside

Revised 2/4/2021 - section 7.b. (face shields for instructors) removed

Revised 6/2/2021 - to align with Provost's 5/24/2021 message, Updated public health requirements for employees, effective June 1, ljh252