Frequently asked questions
Wearing a face covering is optional, regardless of your vaccination status, when you are:
Working or spending time alone in a personal office or workspace with the door closed
Operating a vehicle with no passengers
Inside an assigned on-campus residential unit
Actively eating or drinking
Performing any exempted activity in the Washington State Face Covering Order
A face covering is optional indoors, when you are fully vaccinated with the exception of locations where face coverings are required regardless of your vaccination status (e.g., health care, child care and K-12 settings, and UW shuttles). Supervisors and managers are required to verify personnel they supervise are fully vaccinated prior to allowing them to remove their face covering in the workplace where permitted. If vaccination status is not verified and documented by the unit supervisor or manager, a face covering must be worn indoors in accordance with the University's COVID-19 Face Covering Policy.
Refer to the University's COVID-19 Vaccination Policy for more information about verifying vaccine status.
UW Medicine medical center employees should follow the UW Medicine face covering policy.
Fully vaccinated individuals may choose to wear a face covering voluntarily in University spaces where face coverings are not required to be worn by all individuals. Supervisors must verify personnel are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before removing the face covering requirement for an individual in the workplace. Read the University’s COVID-19 Vaccination Policy for more information.
A face covering includes any cloth face covering that:
- Fits snugly against the sides of the face
- Completely covers the nose and mouth
- Can be secured with ties, ear loops, elastic bands or other equally effective method
- Has at least two layers of cloth
- Has a nose wire to prevent air from leaking out of the top of the mask (recommended)
- Allows for breathing without restriction
- Is capable of being laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape
- Is 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)
Face coverings will be provided to students and UW personnel working on site at a University location.
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).
Review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Use Masks to Slow the Spread of COVID-19 webpage for more information.
UW Medicine medical center employees should follow the UW Medicine Mask Policy.
A face covering is required to be worn when an individual who is not verified to be fully vaccinated by their supervisor or manager is working in a cubicle, and when any individual is working in a location where face coverings are required regardless of vaccination status (e.g., health care, child care, K-12, University shuttles). Read the University's COVID-19 Face Covering Policy and COVID-19 Vaccination Policy for more information.
Cubicle workstations, even with dividers between them, are not considered equivalent to private offices as other people may be in the same workspace and air in the work environment can migrate throughout the space.
UW employees should talk with their supervisor; requests for accommodation by UW personnel can be submitted through the UWHR Disability Services Office.
Requests for accommodation by students can be submitted through Disability Resources for Students.
An accommodation may not include allowing someone to not wear a face covering where it is required.
Personnel: Personnel are required comply with the University's COVID-19 Face Covering Policy as a condition of employment, as well as for the health and safety of themselves, their colleagues, and the UW community. Units are required to ensure all of their personnel have a thorough understanding of the requirements outlined in this policy. If, after education and training, personnel refuse to comply, contact your unit human resources (HR) representative to initiate the appropriate corrective action or standard of conduct process. If unit human resources representatives require assistance, they should contact their HR consultant or Academic Human Resources (AHR) business partner.
If personnel state they are unable to wear a mask due to a health condition, refer the individual to the formal accommodation request process.
Students: If a student refuses to comply with the policy, the student can be sent home (on or off-campus residence). Student Conduct offices are available for consultations on potential violations of student conduct if needed. University personnel with concerns that a student or group of students are not complying with this policy should speak with their supervisor, a representative of the academic unit, or report it to the Environmental Health & Safety Department.
Members of the public, customers and visitors on campus: Members of the public, customers, and visitors on campus will be informed of the requirement for non-fully vaccinated people to wear a face covering indoors by the host unit and/or via signs in and around University buildings. Units are encouraged to have face coverings available for individuals who require them in case a member of the public, customer, or visitor does not have a face covering with them.
Unless personnel have specific, job-required PPE, units must distribute two cloth face coverings to personnel who are required to come to campus for work-related use. Personnel are responsible for laundering their University-issued reusable cloth face coverings and remembering to bring them to work. Personnel may also use a personally purchased alternative face covering as appropriate.
Units can order face coverings from the Creative Communications Safe and Clean storefront. Information about accessing the storefront is available from UW Procurement.
No. Individuals may choose to wear a mask even if they are fully vaccinated for a variety of reasons; this is an individual choice. The decision whether or not to wear a mask is personal and it is not appropriate to ask UW personnel or students about their decision in the classroom or the workplace.
University personnel and students with concerns that others are not complying with the University's COVID-19 Face Covering Policy should speak with a supervisor/manager or report it to the Environmental Health & Safety Department.
Members of the public, customers, visitors, vendors and contractors at a University location are required to follow the University's COVID-19 Face Covering Policy at all times when on campus, including posted requirements in specific buildings or spaces, and are expected to wear a face covering where it is required, based on their vaccination status or requirements for the setting they are in (e.g., health care, K-12, childcare, UW shuttles).
If you see someone without a face covering in accordance with the UW COVID-19 Face Covering Policy, you can report it to their supervisor (for University personnel), a representative of their academic unit (for students), or the Environmental Health & Safety Department.
Refer to the UW COVID-19 Face Covering Policy for additional details.
No. A face covering alone will not cause a person to overheat. Studies have shown that filtering facepiece respirators, such as an N95, do not cause additional physiological stress to most wearers and do not contribute to heat stress.
Read more answers to frequently asked questions about heat stress and facemasks.
Clear masks or cloth masks with a clear plastic panel are an alternative type of mask for people who interact with:
- People who are deaf or hard of hearing
- Young children or students learning to read
- Students learning a new language
- People with disabilities
- People who need to see the proper shape of the mouth for making appropriate vowel sounds (for example, when singing)
If you use this type of mask, make sure:
- You can breathe easily.
- Excess moisture does not collect on the inside of the mask.
- You remove the mask before sleeping, since the plastic part could form a seal around your mouth and nose and make it hard to breathe.
UW units can order face coverings with clear panels from the UW Creative Communications Safe and Clean storefront. Information about accessing the storefront is available from UW Procurement.
Discuss with your supervisor your options for using personal protective equipment based on your risk of transmission of COVID-19.
Review the differences between a face covering, surgical/procedure mask and respirator.
No. Maintaining a 6-foot physical distance from other people is no longer required, but recommended for individuals who are not fully vaccinated, particularly in crowded settings or in areas that are not well ventilated.
Masks are essential for preventing the spread of COVID-19; however, wearing a mask for long periods of time can cause skin problems including acne (also known as “maskne”), rashes and itchiness.
- Cleanse your face before and after wearing a mask.
- If you have dry skin, apply moisturizer to your skin before putting on a mask.
- Apply a ceramide-containing facial lotion or petroleum jelly as a barrier to help prevent skin irritation in areas where the mask rubs against your skin.
- Avoid wearing a liquid foundation or any makeup that can clog your pores, which may cause your skin to break out. Foundation, aftershave, sunscreen and similar products can also rub off on your mask, leading to decreased air filtration, making it harder to breathe.
- Wash cloth masks daily. Replace disposable masks after each use, and when they become contaminated or wet.
- Consider wearing a different type of mask if you are uncomfortable with your current mask.
- Avoid synthetic fabrics, such as nylon or polyester, on the inside layer that rests against your face, as these fabrics are more likely to irritate your skin.
- Cloth masks should have an inner layer made from an absorbent material (e.g., cotton) to help absorb sweat that can lead to breakouts.
- If you are considering using a facemask bracket to prevent acne, be aware that it could lead to gaps between the mask and your face that may cause your mask to be less effective. If you decide to use a bracket under your mask, ensure the mask fits snugly against your face.
Read the American Academy of Dermatology Association article “9 Ways to Prevent Face Mask Skin Problems” for more information.
If you continue to have skin problems that go unresolved after following these recommendations, speak with your health care provider and/or a dermatologist.