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    When and Where to Wear a Mask

    mask wearing
    • Published
    • 28 February 2022
    • Category
    • General

    Last week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxed its indoor mask-wearing guidelines. 

    The CDC’s recommendations are based on three exposure-risk measures: 1) new COVID-related hospital admissions over the previous week; 2) the percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID patients; and 3) new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over the previous week. (Click here for maps of COVID-19 community exposure risk levels).

    The following guidelines apply:

    • Low risk: Wear a mask based on your personal preference, informed by your personal level of risk.
    • Medium risk: If you are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe illness, ask your health care provider about wearing a mask indoors in public.
    • High risk: Wear a well-fitting mask in public, regardless of vaccination status or individual risk (including in K-12 schools and other community settings).

    We’ll be talking about how to assess local exposure risk on March 2 during our monthly webinar on Trending Beyond COVID-19. (Register here for the free webinar series, now in its third consecutive year.)

    The CDC recommends staying up to date on vaccines and wearing a mask that offers greater protection in certain situations, such as high personal health risk, when in close contact with people at higher risk for severe illness, when feeling ill or when caring for someone who has COVID. A federal requirement to wear masks when taking public transportation remains in place and is under review.

    WorkCare Recommendations

    WorkCare physicians base their clinical recommendations for employers on CDC guidance, best clinical practices and specific circumstances affecting client companies. Our team is advising client companies to follow CDC guidelines in the jurisdictions in which they operate. For situations in which higher-risk employees are not comfortable with the guidelines, we recommend that employers look for ways to responsibly accommodate these individuals.

    For those with symptoms or a positive diagnostic test for COVID, WorkCare physicians recommend wearing a well-fitting mask (such as an N95 mask if fitted for it, KN95 mask or double mask) for 10 days. In general, employees can be encouraged to voluntarily wear a mask regardless of community exposure risk levels as an added layer of protection, especially if they have underlying health issues.

    Here are some additional factors to consider when making a personal decision about wearing a mask:

    Colds and Flu: Wearing a mask helps stop the spread of colds and the flu. The number of cases reported in the 2020-2021 influenza season was far below average, primarily due to COVID-19 precautions including masks, social distancing and handwashing.

    How it spreads: The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID spreads mainly from person to person. Droplets expelled by an infected person when they cough, sneeze, sing or talk are a primary exposure route. A mask helps prevent the spread of droplets.

     Vulnerable populations: People who are either vaccinated or unvaccinated pose a risk to those who are immunocompromised, elderly or at higher risk for severe illness. It’s possible to be infected, contagious and not know it. Wearing a mask is a way to protect others.

     Personal protection: Employees may choose to continue to wear a mask because they have frequent in-person encounters with customers, co-workers or children and want to be on the safe side.

    It’s also important to note that CDC guidance applies to the general population in the community, including workplaces and K-12 schools. There is separate, specific guidance for health care settingscorrectional institutions and homeless shelters.

     Other Precautions

    In addition to paying attention to when and where employees wear masks, employers may want to evaluate changes in paid sick leave policies to encourage employees to stay home from work when they are ill. They may also want to consider updates to building air filtration systems to meet ASHRAE standards to help reduce airborne infectious aerosol exposures in accordance with the following:

    1. Minimum outdoor airflow rates for ventilation as specified by applicable codes and standards.
    2. Use combinations of filters and air cleaners that achieve MERV 13 or better levels of performance for air recirculated by HVAC systems.
    3. Only use air cleaners for which evidence of effectiveness and safety is clear.
    4. Select control options, including standalone filters and air cleaners, that provide desired exposure reduction while minimizing associated energy penalties.

    For more information on WorkCare recommendations, visit us at

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