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NIH Temporarily Prohibiting Non-Emergency Calls to Emergency Communications Center

Dear NIH Staff,

This past Monday, the Office of Research Services, Division of Occupational Health and Safety (DOHS) sent an email with updated information on Quarantine and Isolation for persons who have tested positive for, or had exposure to, someone with COVID-19. In that email, we referenced the requirement for staff returning to work under these new guidelines to wear an ASTM Level 3 surgical mask. Since that email, there has been much confusion. I hope this email will help to clarify the proper DOHS mask recommendations and requirements.

At this time, ASTM Level 3 masks are ONLY mandated for staff in healthcare settings, Building 10, or those returning to onsite work after a positive COVID test or exposure (under the new isolation and quarantine policies). ASTM Level 3 masks are NOT mandated across all NIH campuses while on site, nor are any other specific mask types. DOHS will provide risk assessments and consult with staff for exceptions and special groups where other protective face coverings may be needed, including KN-95s or N-95 respirators.

Check Safety Guidance for More Mask Information.

The NIH Safety Guidance & COVID-19 Safety Plan (https://go.usa.gov/xtYrW) provides detailed information, especially in Appendices I, IV and V, regarding masking options, distancing and added protections while working onsite. The NIH is working to identify and source additional ASTM masks of all levels (ASTM Levels 1 and 2) for general use. We ask for your patience as these masks are identified and shipped. Our vulnerable patient and healthcare professionals in the Clinical Center rely on these vital pieces of equipment to ensure the hospital runs smoothly and safely, but recent excessively large orders have put a strain on the system.

Mask Guidance for Laboratories.

If you work in a laboratory space nothing has changed. You can continue to wear the appropriate disposable face coverings, with or without an ASTM rating. Many laboratories should already have appropriate disposable masks on hand, as they have been required in labs for the duration of the pandemic.

Mask Guidance for Administrative Space.

Staff working on site in administrative functions other than a lab setting, such as in an office, can choose a well-fitting mask, including cloth masks. The fit is the most important feature of the mask, and the Safety guidance (https://go.usa.gov/xtYrW) explains this in detail. There are options such as double masking a surgical mask and cloth mask to provide added protection if needed.

Safety is a Multi-Layered Approach.

Please remember, masking is just one critical layer of a multi-layered approach to keeping everyone safe. The omicron variant is highly transmissible and vaccine evasion is present. However, it is critical to remember that transmission occurs when we are in close proximity and not wearing masks – especially if someone is unvaccinated, partially vaccinated, or hasn't received a booster. If you haven't been vaccinated or boosted, please do so. And, if you have symptoms, please stay home.

For any questions, please reach out to DOHS_COVID19@mail.nih.gov​. Thank you for your patience as we work diligently to support the safe return to work, and the safety concerns of our onsite staff. Stay safe.

Jessica McCormick-Ell, Ph.D., SM(NRCM), CBSP, RBP.

Director, Division of Occupational Health and Safety.

Office of Research Services.

National Institutes of Health.

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