Face Coverings

You could spread COVID-19 to others even if you do not feel sick. Wearing a cloth face covering will protect other people in case you are infected.  Due to current COVID-19 transmission risks, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, along with state and federal health officials, have required face covering usage in specific indoor and outdoor situations which apply at Stanford University. Stanford University may also implement stricter guidance at any time. For details on when/where face covering usage is required, refer to:  Health-Alerts Face Covering Guidance

Quick Facts

  • Cloth face coverings cover both the nose and mouth and can be secured to the head with ties, straps, earloops, or are wrapped around the lower face. They can be made using a variety of cloth materials or improvised using bandanas, scarves, T-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels. Watch a video on how to make a cloth face covering.
  • Refrain from using N95 respirators or medical/surgical face masks, as they are meant for healthcare workers. Learn the difference here.
  • Continue to keep 6 feet between yourself and others. The cloth face covering is NOT a substitute for social distancing.

Instances of where it is not appropriate to wear a face covering include:

  • People who cannot wear a face covering for health reasons, including:
    • Anyone who has been advised by a medical professional not to wear a face covering; students in this situation should follow up with the Office of Accessible Education (OAE) to receive an accommodation, and employees should contact their HR manager; or
    • Anyone who has trouble breathing is incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance;
  • Any worker to the extent wearing a face-covering creates a safety hazard at work under established health and safety guidelines,
  • While eating or drinking; or
  • Children, age in accordance with local or state guidelines.

For clarity, although wearing a face covering is one tool for reducing the spread of the virus, doing so is not a substitute for the physical distancing of at least 6 feet and frequent hand washing.

Further Defining Face Coverings, Face Masks, and PPE

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have heard a few words used with much more frequency than before, and perhaps interchangeably. The reality is, face coverings, face masks, and PPE (or Personal Protective Equipment) are not the same things, with differences in medical vs. non-medical usage. As you will be hearing these words used throughout this site, it is important to take a moment to define these terms. For guidance on what Stanford is requiring employees wear while at work, visit Face Coverings.

Face Coverings

Face coverings are used to help protect others from any  illness the wearer might be able to spread. These are not medical grade. A face covering can be either commercially manufactured or homemade. They are typically made of cloth and are washable.  Cloth face coverings should be routinely washed depending on frequency of use. Disposable face coverings should be disposed of in the garbage after each use unless a pre-approved reuse program has been cleared with EH&S.

Face Mask

Face masks  are manufactured (not homemade) and are used to protect the wearer from airborne dusts/ aerosols. Face masks (without exhalation valves) can also be worn to protect others if the wearer is ill.  Common types of face masks include dust masks, surgical masks, and N95 filtering facepiece respirators.  Currently, individuals who do not work in a healthcare setting are being asked to reserve surgical masks and medical-grade N95s for healthcare workers, and instead may safely wear face coverings when going out in public (see face covering definition). Individuals in private offices do not need to wear face coverings as per SCC guidance.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

PPE, as defined by OSHA, is “equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses”. PPE is selected according to the hazards in the work environment, and is designed to protect the individual from exposure to those hazards. In the context of COVID-19, depending on your job duties, you might be asked to wear a face covering or face mask in addition to your regular PPE required for your job function.