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If cloth face coverings cannot be used, take other measures to reduce COVID-19 spread

Posted July 24, 2020

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graphic promoting mask wearing

Cloth face coverings are a proven way to decrease the spread of COVID-19, but wearing a cloth face coverings may not be possible in every situation or for some people. In some situations, wearing a cloth face covering may worsen a physical or mental health condition, lead to a medical emergency or introduce significant safety concerns.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says adaptations and alternatives should be considered whenever possible to increase the feasibility of wearing a cloth face covering or to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread if it is not possible to wear one.

For example:

  • People who are deaf or hard of hearing — or those who care for or interact with a person who is hearing impaired — may be unable to wear cloth face coverings if they rely on lip reading to communicate. In this situation, consider using a clear face covering.
  • Some people, such as those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental health conditions or other sensory sensitivities, may have challenges wearing a cloth face covering. They should consult with their health care provider for advice about wearing cloth face coverings.
  • Younger children (preschool or early elementary-aged) may be unable to wear a cloth face covering properly, particularly for an extended period of time. Wearing a cloth face covering may be prioritized at times when it is difficult to maintain a distance of 6 feet from others (for example, during carpool drop off or pickup, or when standing in line at school). Ensuring proper cloth face covering size and fit and providing children with frequent reminders and education on the importance and proper wear of cloth face coverings may help address these issues.
  • People should not wear cloth face coverings while engaged in activities that may cause the cloth face covering to become wet, like when swimming. A wet cloth face covering may make it difficult to breathe. For activities like swimming, it is particularly important to maintain physical distance from others when in the water.
  • People who are engaged in high-intensity activities, like running, may not be able to wear a cloth face covering if it causes difficulty breathing. If unable to wear a cloth face covering, consider conducting the activity in a location with greater ventilation and air exchange (for instance, outdoors versus indoors) and where it is possible to maintain physical distance from others.
  • People who work in a setting where cloth face coverings may increase the risk of heat-related illness or cause safety concerns due to introduction of a hazard (for instance, straps getting caught in machinery) may consult with an occupational safety and health professional to determine the appropriate face covering for their setting. Outdoor workers may prioritize use of cloth face coverings when in close contact with other people, like during group travel or shift meetings, and remove face coverings when social distancing is possible.

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