Division Title

​Personal Safety Guidance

Facial Coverings

Facial Coverings When Workplace Hospital Admission Levels are “Low" or" Medium"
At “Low" and “Medium" workplace hospital admission levels facial coverings are recommended, but not required, at NIH facilities. Staff may voluntarily wear a facial covering when hospital admission levels are “Low" or “Medium". Personnel are expected to respect staff choices regarding wearing of facial coverings. Staff choosing to wear facial coverings should refer to “Facial Coverings When Workplace Hospital Admission Levels are High" for helpful information on wearing facial coverings.  Personnel choosing to wear an N95 respirator must comply with the guidance on voluntary use of respirators found below.

Facial Coverings When Workplace Hospital Admission Levels are High
 All staff and visitors at the NIH must wear a facial covering inside NIH owned or leased facilities when the CDC workplace Hospital Admission is at high, or if they work in an area outlined as a healthcare/ animal care location (see landing page of safety guidance). When face coverings are required, personnel in an enclosed private office are exempt from the facial covering requirements while in their office with the door closed. Cubicles with doors are not enclosed offices, and facial coverings must be worn by staff in cubicles when the general mask requirements are in place. Facial coverings act as source control and reduce the spread of virus from symptomatic, asymptomatic, and pre-symptomatic infected people.  

Appropriate use of facial coverings minimizes transmission because you can spread COVID-19 to others even if you do not feel sick or have any of the cited symptoms. Appropriate use of facial coverings at the NIH means: 

  • Wearing a well-fitted KN95, surgical mask, or N95 respirator that covers your nose and mouth, and 
    • Is constructed of a minimum of two breathable layers, including a synthetic fiber (preferably non-woven) layer, and 
    • Includes a formable nose piece (i.e., wire or malleable plastic) to allow for forming a tight fit around the nose, and 
  • Replacing soiled, stained, or damaged face coverings, and 
  • Using a lab dedicated-disposable surgical mask when in the laboratory conducting work at the bench. 

Due to the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, if the hospital admission levels reach high, cloth face coverings used without a surgical mask, a KN95 or respirator are no longer permitted when workplace hospital admission levels are “High". They may be worn over a surgical mask.  

In areas where masks are required, a face shield may not be worn as an alternative if not worn in conjunction with a mask. Staff should evaluate the need for a separate mask to be used during their commute to their worksite and home. 

It is strongly recommended that, when worn, cloth facial coverings be changed and laundered daily. If reuse of a facial covering is necessary, facial coverings and/or masks should be stored in paper bags or in some other protective device to reduce the potential for damage or contamination that could occur if the facial covering was placed on a desk or in a backpack, pocket, or purse alone. Paper bags are recommended because the facial covering may be damp from breath condensation, and the paper allows the facial covering to dry out. A plastic bag would trap this condensation inside and not allow the facial covering to dry out.  

Healthcare and Healthcare Support Areas

The Clinical Center has issued its own facial covering policy. Persons entering the building will be issued a disposable surgical mask (ASTM Level 3). Face coverings must be replaced by (or worn under) the provided surgical mask whenever inside the Clinical Center. Any type of disposable mask worn at the time of entry into the Clinical Center should be discarded into a trash can or in Medical Pathological Waste (MPW) containers that are commonly found in laboratories and clinical areas. For other NIH buildings and leased spaces, disposable facial coverings can also be disposed in the MPW containers or white step cans. For convenience, white step cans have been placed at the entries/exits of buildings, at common points of departure from NIH campuses, leased facilities and in the Clinical Center.

Other Healthcare or Healthcare Support Areas should follow the guidance for “High" workplace hospital admission level facial covering requirements for their location.

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Voluntary Use of N95 Respirators

Voluntary use of N95 respirators is permitted at the NIH. However, there are requirements for personnel choosing to use an N95. Personnel wishing to voluntarily use an N95 respirator must complete the Voluntary Respirator Use Certification Form. This form acknowledges that you have watched the brief training video on the limitations, use, and care of N95 respirators, as well as ensuring your supervisor is aware that you are enrolled. Supervisors will need to conduct work assessments to ensure an N95 is appropriate. Personnel must not use an N95 if wearing it creates an additional hazard. They must also enroll in the full respiratory protection program if the use is mandatory rather than voluntary. 

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Use, Care and Changing of Facial Coverings

  • If changing to a mask intended for use in the laboratory, do so at least 6 feet from others before performing laboratory work so as not to expose others.
  • Wash your hands with soap or use hand sanitizer containing 60% ethyl or 70% isopropyl alcohol before putting the mask on, before adjusting and after removing.
  • Make sure your mouth and nose are fully covered, pull the mask down over your chin and pinch the bridge of the nose. Assure there are no gaps in the mask and that it fits against the side of your face.
  • Remove your mask using the ear loops/ties and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Place your used mask in a paper bag for storage and wash your hands immediately after removing.
  • Use designated locations to take a break for a drink or to eat, ensuring adequate distance from others. After finishing your food or drink, immediately put your face covering back on.