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Face Covering and Mask Requirements

1. Purpose:

  1. Wearing a mask or face covering (including neck gaiters) can help reduce the transmission of SARS-COV2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. Recent studies indicate that a significant portion of individuals with COVID-19 lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. 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. Consequently, a mask or cloth face covering is worn to reduce community spread of the disease.b. 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.

2. The Requirement for Masks and Face Coverings:

Outdoors: All employees, students, and visitors are required to have a mask or face covering readily available on their person when on campus outdoors and to put on their mask or face covering when it is NOT feasible to maintain physical/social distancing measures (i.e., at least 6 feet of separation between others).

Indoors: Anyone entering a building must put on a mask or face covering prior to entering building and to continue to wear mask or face covering in common areas such as elevators, lobby, bathrooms, when traveling around the building, and working in shared spaces. Additionally, masks and face coverings are required in common areas of residence halls, dining halls, community centers, the Cornell Stores, and other retail locations and gathering spaces across campus. Face coverings or masks can only be removed when alone in a cubicle, office, or other Unit designated area following social distancing guidelines. (Note: For the intent of this procedure, cubicle is defined as a space with three walls at least 5' in height.)

Organized Outdoor Events:  Masks as well as social distancing is required for all outdoor events.  If the event includes food, masks may be removed while dining as long as social distancing is maintained.

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, masks, or neck gaiters if they meet the following requirements:

  • 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. Face coverings should not create additional hazards to the user, e.g. restrictions to breathing, or entanglement hazards with ties and straps.  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 are 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. 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.  
  2. Classroom instructors are permitted to use a face shield in lieu of mask while lecturing as long as physical distancing can be maintained.  Instructors must use a mask prior to lecturing, immediately following lecture, and while moving around the classroom interacting with students.

8. Resources

More Information

Revised 8/9/2020