Select the right type of facemask


Facemasks can include both medical/procedure masks and cloth face coverings; however, they serve different purposes and are appropriate to wear in distinct situations.

When should I wear a medical/procedure mask?medical/procedure mask

Medical/procedure masks protect others by containing respiratory droplets when the wearer coughs, sneezes or speaks. Medical/procedure masks are personal protective equipment (PPE) because they protect the wearer against sprays or splashes of liquid and/or aerosols.

  • Healthcare providers: Medical/procedure facemasks are prioritized for healthcare providers who are working on the front lines to protect us all. UW Medicine employees can refer to the UW Medicine Mask Policy for more information.
  • Working within 6 feet of other people: Medical/procedure masks may be used by UW personnel doing work to support critical operations where they may not be able to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between another person for longer than 15 minutes.
    • The employee and/or the employee’s supervisor must complete a COVID-19 risk assessment and identify required personal protective equipment (PPE), which may include a medical/procedure mask.
    • All work tasks where maintaining a 6-foot distance may not be possible must be included in the unit or site-specific COVID-19 prevention plan and must be approved by the unit leader prior to performing the task.

Working around hazardous materials: UW personnel working with hazardous materials or working in area where hazardous materials are being used (e.g., hazardous chemicals), should wear a medical/procedure mask and/or other appropriate PPE. For work with biohazards, a disposable medical/procedure mask is required at Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2) and higher.

UW personnel who wear medical/procedure masks that become contaminated while performing work tasks will need to remove the contaminated mask and replace it with a clean cloth face covering or facemask when in common areas, such as hallways, break rooms and restrooms.

When should I wear a cloth face covering?

Cloth face coverings can help protect others by containing respiratory droplets when the wearer coughs, sneezes or speaks. Cloth face coverings are not designed to protect the wearer and do not replace job required PPE.

Face coverings are required at the UW to be worn by all UW personnel, students and visitors indoors where other people are present; this includes common areas, such as hallways, stairways, restrooms and elevators. Face coverings are required to be worn outdoors whenever keeping a 6-foot distance from other people may not be possible.

Cloth face coverings do not replace required job-specific personal protective equipment (PPE), such as medical/procedure masks, face shields or respirators. Cloth face coverings are not appropriate when working in close contact with others, when a risk assessment indicates PPE is required to perform a job role or activity, and/or when working with or around hazardous materials (e.g., hazardous chemicals, biohazards). 

The University unit will provide two cloth face coverings to all UW personnel who are working on site at a University location.

What type of cloth face covering should I wear?

A face covering must:

  • Fit snugly against the sides of the face
  • Completely cover the nose and mouth
  • Be able to be secured with ties, ear loops, elastic bands or other equally effective method
  • Have at least one layer of cloth; at least two layers are strongly recommended
  • Allow for breathing without restriction
  • Be capable of being laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape
  • Be free of holes, tears or valves that have the potential to release respiratory droplets

The following types of face coverings do not adequately contain the respiratory droplets of the wearer:

  • Face coverings made of mesh fabric
  • Face coverings with holes, tears or openings that could release respiratory droplets
  • Respirators with exhalation valves or vented dust masks
  • Face shields (when not combined with a face covering)

dust mask   mask with exhalation valve    face shield  

More information

Visit the Face Covering Requirements page and read the University of Washington COVID-19 Face Covering Policy for more information about face covering requirements at the University.

Refer to the Facemask Focus Sheet and the Guidance on Facemask Use for Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 for more information about selecting, using, wearing and disposing of facemasks and face coverings.