Coronavirus (COVID-19) Common Questions Regarding Worker Face Covering and Mask Requirements

These common questions and answers are to help with implementation of Governor Jay Inslee's orders and L&I regulatory policy related to COVID-19 and the use of face coverings, masks and respirators. This information is being updated as new questions come in.

Businesses and workers should also use the following guidance documents for additional information on required face coverings and mask use based on the level of risk for various job tasks:

What does it mean to be “working alone”?

Someone is considered to be working alone when they're isolated from interaction with other people and have little or no expectation of in-person interruption. How often a worker is able to work alone throughout the day may vary.

Examples of working alone include:

  • A lone worker inside the enclosed cab of a crane or other heavy equipment, vehicle, or harvester.
  • A person by themselves inside an office with 4 walls and a door.
  • A lone worker inside of a cubicle with 4 walls (one with an opening for an entryway) that are high enough to block the breathing zone of anyone walking by, and whose work activity will not require anyone to come inside of the cubicle.
  • A worker by themselves outside in an agricultural field, the woods, or other open area with no anticipated contact with others.

Do fire, police, 911 dispatchers, and the like need to wear a cloth face covering while working at the desk during emergency calls?

Barriers and ventilation should be set up in the call center to provide effective separation between workstations and supervisor locations. Dispatchers do not need to wear masks while sitting in separated workstations or communicating on emergency calls.

Coverings/masks must be used when with other people, in accordance to the L&I guidance chart.

What about police? Should they wear (or not wear) cloth face coverings in a car alone, on the beat, and other situations?

As a general rule, cloth face coverings should be worn when not working alone. When interacting with the public, masks should be worn, but other public safety concerns may necessitate removing the mask for improved communication or to avoid the mask being a hazard. An individual alone in a car is permitted to not wear a facial covering. Two officers in a car is likely medium risk and a covering must be worn; other situations may need to be evaluated. Masks or face coverings are required when law enforcement officers are in a station house or other administrative building with frequent in-person interactions.

What are the requirements for workers with medical and disability issues that prevent the use of a cloth face covering or mask?

Employees with a medical or disability issue, who are requesting accommodation, must provide their employer with an accommodation statement from their medical professional specifying that a face covering or mask should not be worn due to their present health condition. Employers cannot just allow the employee to work without a mask with no other mitigations or accommodations.

Employers should assess any negative impacts that face coverings might have on employees with disabilities and make accommodations per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, workers communicating with people who are deaf or hard of hearing may need to temporarily unmask while staying at least 6 feet away or behind a physical barrier in order to allow for lip reading.

What COVID-19 protections are required for a speaker at a news conference, and witnesses in court trials?

Reporters, on-camera anchors/talent, speakers on camera, and witnesses at court trials may remove their cloth facial covering or mask for the time they are speaking only. A shared podium, witness stand, or equipment should not be touched without being sanitized after each person has used it. All people involved must maintain at least 6 feet of physical distancing from each other. All other workers, including camera operators, production staff, and courtroom staff, must wear masks or face coverings while not working alone.

Do workers have to wear cloth face coverings when interacting with clients while they're behind a Plexiglas barrier and are safe-distanced?

Yes. While the use of barriers is encouraged, it does not remove the requirement that workers have to wear a face covering or mask. The requirement for workers to wear face coverings or better is based on whether they're working alone.

Do workers working alone in 6-foot-high cubicles need to wear cloth face coverings?

If the cubicle has 4 walls and a door opening, and the worker can maintain social distancing, they are considered to be "working alone." With that, they do not have to wear a cloth face covering or better while in their cubicle. When workers leave their cubicles, they need to put the face covering on.

Is a barista working at a drive-through coffee stand considered working alone?

If a drive-through worker is the only person in the stand, they only have to wear a cloth face covering or better while they are interacting with customers.

Do delivery drivers working for companies such as UPS and FedEx need to wear masks?

Delivery drivers must wear masks when they may come within 6 feet of another person. No mask is required while a delivery driver is in their vehicle alone.

Do vendors delivering goods to a store need to wear a mask?

Under Governor Inslee's Safe Start directive, at a minimum all workers are required to wear a cloth facial covering unless they are working alone or are exempt because of medical reasons. Vendors entering a store to deliver supplies or stock shelves must wear a face mask while interacting with others in the store, unless they are working completely alone.

Does wearing a mask create a build-up of carbon dioxide for the person wearing it?

No. That's a myth. You can find more information at the Department of Health (DOH) web page Myths and Facts about Cloth Face Coverings.

Can workers traveling together in a vehicle be closer than 6 feet apart?

Workers traveling together in a vehicle should maintain 6 feet of social distance; however, transporting multiple workers in vehicles for up to 1 hour per trip would be a considered a medium-transmission risk when all of the following conditions are met:

  • Workers must be seated with at least 3-foot separation. This is measured between breathing zones, the space within about 12 inches of their mouths and noses. For example, it is okay for a worker's feet to extend under the seat of another worker as long as they are not breathing the same air.
  • Ventilation must be operated at full force, drawing in outside air, or all windows that can be opened should be fully open to provide as much fresh air as possible.
  • Vehicles must be cleaned between trips, focusing on high-touch surfaces around seating positions.
  • No more than 2 workers (including the driver) are allowed in a compact car. Up to 4 workers (including the driver) are allowed in larger sedans and work trucks with 2 rows of seats.
  • Up to 6 – 7 workers are allowed in passenger vans if the minimum 3-foot distancing can be accomplished. It is possible that the design of the vehicle or its seating systems may not allow passenger vans to carry this many people.

Workers in the medium-risk category must wear non-cloth disposables, which include dust masks; KN95 or other non-approved, foreign system, NIOSH-style filtering face-piece respirators; or non-FDA-approved procedure masks.

Using a vehicle for higher occupancy will be considered a high-transmission risk, and workers are required to wear respiratory protection. Businesses must comply with Washington Administrative Code 296-842 Respiratory Protection, which includes medical surveillance, fit testing, training, and a written program.

Can cloth face coverings or masks be removed during lunch?

Yes, but social distancing needs to be maintained.

Can cloth face coverings be laundered at home?

Yes, cloth face coverings can and should be routinely laundered at home.

Are face shields an acceptable substitute for masks or cloth face coverings?

No. Face shields provide good droplet protection for the wearer, but the purpose of using a cloth face covering or mask is to protect others. Because people can be infected and actively transmitting the virus without knowing it, coverings stop the virus at the source — the mouth and nose — from getting into the air. It prevents workers from passing the virus to other workers and customers.

Does an employer have to inform employees about COVID-19 hazards and the possibility of it being in the workplace?  

Yes. If the employer is aware there is an above-normal risk of COVID-19 in their workplace, they need to inform employees of the heightened risk. A general statement will suffice.

Do firefighters have to wear masks while sleeping at the station?

No. Beds need to be 6 feet from each other, and if only bunk beds are used, the bottom bunk should be occupied. 

Is a face shield with cloth covering the side and bottom edges an acceptable accommodation for workers who have a medical exemption to wearing a mask or cloth face covering?

Yes. A face shield that includes a cloth extension attached to the entire edge of the shield is an acceptable accommodation.

Are there guidelines about cloth weight for face coverings used in low- or negligible-risk settings?

No. There are no official guidelines regarding cloth weight for face masks used in low-risk settings. 

What are employer requirements for providing masks?

Employers must provide employees masks free of charge. The employer must immediately replace your mask if you request it, or if it becomes contaminated, wet, dirty, damaged, or when recommended by the manufacturer. 

Heat Stress and Face Coverings

Can wearing a mask while I am working and it is hot out cause me to overheat?

No, a face covering alone will not cause a person to overheat. Studies have shown that filtering facepieces such as an N95 respirator do not cause additional physiological stress to most wearers and do not contribute to heat stress. Cloth face coverings and procedural masks are typically not as restrictive as wearing an N95 mask, and so are of even less concern regarding overheating of the wearer.

When can a face shield substitute for coverings/masks for outside heat exposed workers?

While working alone.

Can workers lower their mask below the chin occasionally throughout the day while working, and what steps should workers take to stay safe?

Yes, while working alone and during cool-down breaks, as long as appropriate distance from other people is maintained.

At what temperature above 80 degrees is it appropriate to remove facial coverings and masks when exposed to the hazard of heat stress?

It is not appropriate to remove facial coverings based on the temperature. Removing facial coverings is not an effective way of reducing body temperature. Regular protective measures to control heat stress must be implemented, such as drinking plenty of water, frequent breaks in a cool area, and scheduling work during cooler parts of the day.

Disposable medical masks seem to be better tolerated for outside workers in heat. Are these better than cloth masks during heat?

Cloth face coverings are the minimum that is required for low-transmission-risk work. If the worker prefers to use disposable medical masks, that is acceptable.

Customer Mask Use

What are the minimum requirements for a business to comply with the customer mask order?

The business must post prominent customer mask policy signage at entrances, and they should be in the language of their main customer base (for example, English, Korean, English and Spanish, and so forth).

The business should take steps to engage customers to ensure face coverings are worn to protect workers and other customers, but avoid creating potentially violent situations.

  • Include customer masking policy and procedures in COVID-19 worker safety programs.
  • Designate a manager/supervisor to oversee the business's COVID-19 safety program at each facility.

Are employers required to post an employee at each entrance to check on customer masking?

No. However, each employer must decide if posting an employee at each entrance is needed to increase the effectiveness of their COVID-19 customer masking program.

Are public transportation businesses expected to enforce the customer mask order?

Yes. Public transportation providers are expected to display signs that inform riders they need to wear a face covering or mask. When riders do not wear face coverings or masks, the operator should inform the rider of the mask policy and ask that they comply. The transit business may have specific steps for operators to take, but operators should avoid actions potentially creating violent situations.

Questions?

If you have further questions regarding workplace safety, please call 1-800-4 BE SAFE (1-800-423-7233).