The CDC reverses course in the November 10 guidance, stating that masks have proven to reduce transmission and infection rates when studying the effects on the community as a whole.
On November 10, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its mask guidance and asserted that wearing face masks not only protects the public but also protects the mask wearer. Health experts have emphasized the benefits of mask-wearing to prevent infection and spread of the COVID-19 virus for months. But, until recently, the CDC has largely encouraged the public to wear face masks in order to protect other people. For example, in guidance issued October 20, 2020, the CDC stated that “[c]loth masks are intended to protect other people—not the wearer. They are not considered to be PPE.”
The CDC reverses course in the November 10 guidance, stating that masks have proven to reduce transmission and infection rates when studying the effects on the community as a whole. The guidance encourages the use of multilayered cloth masks, highlighting two main benefits: (1) source control to block the release of exhaled droplets into the environment and (2) filtration for personal protection.
In regard to source control, the CDC notes that multilayered cloth masks are estimated to block up to 50 percent to 70 percent of fine droplets and particles that would otherwise be released into the environment and limit the forward spread of any droplets that have not been captured. For personal protection, studies have demonstrated that wearing a cloth mask may lessen the wearers’ exposure to the infectious droplets through filtration. The most effective type of cloth masks to date are multiple layered cloth masks with higher thread counts.
Because COVID-19 is generally transmitted by respiratory droplets created when people cough, sneeze, talk or breathe, the CDC recommends that individuals wear a nonvalved, multilayer cloth mask when in public settings. The CDC notes that wearing masks is especially significant for individuals who are either asymptomatic or presymptomatic because they may be unaware of their ability to infect others and are estimated to account for more than 50 percent of transmission.
This updated CDC mask guidance is an expansion of its existing guidance on how to select, wear and clean your mask, with the CDC stating, for example, that individuals should, “wear masks with two or more layers to stop the spread of COVID-19,” “[w]ear the mask over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin,” and “[m]asks should be worn by people two years and older,” as well as guidance for mask-wearing in public settings: “[the] CDC recommends that people wear masks in public settings, like on public and mass transportation, at events and gatherings, and anywhere they will be around other people.”
With the uptick of cases, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19, it is imperative that individuals adhere to the CDC guidance, in addition to state and local health orders, guidance or other legal mandates, and wear masks when in public settings as well as in workplaces and other indoor environments. As the CDC stated in its November 10 update, “[a]dopting universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns, especially if combined with other non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing, hand hygiene, and adequate ventilation.”
What This Means for Employers and Members of the Public
Many employers have already implemented mask requirements and policies in accordance with state and local health orders, guidance or other legal mandates. Although many employers are already compelled to require employees to wear face masks in workplace settings, the CDC’s November 10 guidance reasserts the importance of masks to reduce both transmission and infection rates. Employers should ensure that they remain compliant with the CDC’s mask recommendations as well as state and local guidance or legal mandates. The CDC’s updated mask guidance does not change employers’ existing obligations to follow state and local health orders and other legal mandates. For example, employers in many states are required to not only provide masks to their employees, but also require employees to wear them when on the worksite. As described in our recent Alert, New Jersey’s Executive Order 192 imposes an updated mask mandate applicable to employees, customers, visitors and others entering the workplace.
The CDC’s November 10 guidance reaffirms the commitment that employers have already made and, more broadly with respect to members of the public, reasserts the importance of masks to reduce both transmission and infection rates. Employers and members of the public should ensure that they remain compliant with the CDC’s mask recommendations as well as state and local health orders, guidance and legal mandates.
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