Medical Society Issues Guidance on the Use of Face Coverings in the Workplace During COVID-19

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has now spread throughout the world and is found in all 50 states and in territories of the United States (U.S.). To help prevent or slow the spread of this disease, public health authorities have mandated physical distancing, handwashing, and disinfection of surfaces as the key infection control techniques. Recently, evidence has shown that asymptomatic carriers of the virus can infect others. This has led the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Surgeon General to urge the use of face coverings in those areas with significant transmission.
Many employees have jobs that require their physical presence at work during this pandemic including, but not limited to, public safety personnel, grocery store workers, delivery drivers, utility workers, pharmacists, etc. Based on the new federal recommendations, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) encourages the use of face coverings in those workplaces where they have not historically been indicated.
To promote the safe use of face coverings in the workplace, ACOEM has created a checklist – Recommendations for Use of Cloth or Disposable Face Coverings in the Workplace During COVID-19 – that summarizes best practices for the use of face coverings to maximize safety and stop the spread of COVID-19 to co-workers, family members, and the public.
The checklist addresses the safe use of face coverings. “Whether using a homemade face mask, a bandana, or a manufactured disposable nuisance dust-filtering mask, improperly using a face covering will reduce its effectiveness and increase the likelihood of viral transmission to oneself and others,” said Robert McLellan, MD, leader of the work group that developed the checklist. “As the medical society whose members are experts in the use of personal protective equipment, ACOEM publishes these guidelines to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19.”
In addition, ACOEM wants users to understand the potential benefits and limitations of using face coverings to protect from COVID-19. “Face coverings are not a substitute for personal hygiene and preventive health methods known to be effective – physical distancing, handwashing, and surface disinfection,” said Stephen Frangos, MD, ACOEM President. “These coverings protect others by catching the spray of droplets, and may also help prevent touching the face with contaminated hands, one way the virus is transmitted.”
Commercial and homemade disposable or cloth face coverings are not respirators, and this guidance does not apply to health care workers or other workers whose jobs normally require use of respirators. Because of the insufficient supply of N95 respirators needed to protect health care workers, employers should not purchase these for their workers, who will be at much lower risk of exposure.
This guidance is also offered in the context of a pandemic where there is a crisis in supplies of personal protective equipment, including disposable or reusable face coverings that do not meet the criteria of a respirator. And, as the science surrounding COVID-19 is rapidly changing, employers and employees should look to CDC and ACOEM for regular updates.
Founded in 1916, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine ( is an international society of 4,000 occupational physicians and other health care professionals. The College provides leadership to promote optimal health and safety of workers, workplaces, and environments. The College is located in Elk Grove Village, Ill.