A conceptual illustration of the coronavirus as if it were observed from a microscope is seen.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Employee and Student Masking Guidelines

To protect the health of the Penn State Health (PSH) and College of Medicine (COM) workforce, patients, and visitors, employees and students, regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status, are required to wear a level 1 mask while in Penn State Health locations accessible to patients or human research subjects, irrespective of the ability to physically distance from others. Masking is optional for employees and students while in well-defined areas that are restricted from patient or human research subjects access.

Level 1 masks should be replaced by other personal protective equipment (PPE) as required by other Penn State Health policies and patient care protocols (e.g. during care of COVID-infected patients), as needed. If a mask other than a level 1 mask is necessary, the appropriate level mask will be designated based upon the employee/student’s job responsibilities and/or the work location within PSH/COM facilities. Masks should be used as supplementation to social distancing, respiratory etiquette, and thorough hand washing and hygiene. This policy is intended to complement the published isolation precaution policy and personal protective equipment protocols in clinical settings.

As feasible, social distancing should be maintained (at least 6-feet of distance) between individuals when a mask needs to be removed. If a person is in a well-defined space restricted from patient or human research subjects access, their mask may be removed but must be immediately replaced when they enter an area that could be accessed by patients or human research subjects. Examples include but are not limited to a space within a health care facility that is behind a closed door accessible to employees only; administrative office buildings that are restricted to employees only; library, seminar rooms, and other educational space. If an administrative office building is accessed by patients or human research subjects, employees and students must be masked when entering and exiting the building, and while in any space that could be accessed by a patient or human research subject.

There should be very limited times, if any, when employees/students do not wear a mask while in the presence of others in areas accessible to patient or human research subjects. If masks are temporarily removed, the amount of time without a mask must be minimal and maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet is critical.

In spaces where masking is optional, employees and students are required to wear a level 1 mask if they:

  • Have suspected or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection (and have been cleared by Employee Health/Student Health/Penn State Occupational Health to report to work); or
  • Had close contact or a high-risk exposure with someone with SARS-CoV-2 infection for 10 days after their exposure, (employees/students are reminded to remove themselves from the workplace and report symptoms if they present after exposure); or
  • Have otherwise had masking recommended by public health authorities, Employee or Student Health/PSU Occupational Health, Hospital Epidemiologist (e.g. if outbreaks are identified among employees).

Employees and students may continue to choose to use source control (e.g. wearing a mask) based on their personal preference, informed by their perceived level of risk for infection based on their recent activities (e.g. attending a crowded indoor gathering) and/or their own or household member’s potential for developing severe disease.

Department/Unit Manager or their designee will provide employees and students with a mask to be worn when in their work unit. Masks should be replaced as soon as they become wet or dirty. As long as supplies are sufficient, employees and students may obtain a new mask at the start of every shift. If the appropriate mask worn while in the work unit is one that is not intended for use outside of that work unit, employees and students will also be given and must wear a level 1 mask at all other times while in PSH facilities in areas accessible to patients. Cloth masks are not allowed on their own, but they may be worn with a level 1 mask. With the exception of a cloth mask worn in addition to a PSH-issued mask, employees and students should not wear a mask other than those provided by PSH.

Penn State Health system and College of Medicine executive leadership have the authority to change the parameters of these masking requirements at any point in time dependent upon infection rates and community transmission.

Guidelines for appropriate mask wearing can be found in the following section of this policy.

General guidelines for mask wearing

Jessica Witmier wears a Level 1 (procedure) mask while running a COVID-19 test at Penn State College of Medicine/Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in April 2020.
  • Ensure your mask is well-fitting – make sure the mask covers your mouth, nose, and chin without gaps around the sides of your face and adjust nose wire to ensure a snug fit.
  • In addition to wearing a mask, it is also essential to perform excellent hand hygiene to prevent transmission of illness.
    • Sanitize or wash your hands thoroughly after touching any public, commonly touched surface (like a doorknob), or shared computer or phone.
    • Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, or mouth; if you must touch any part of your face, sanitize or wash your hands thoroughly first.
    • Thoroughly wash or sanitize your hands before eating and drinking.
  • The mask should remain on (extended use). Continue to maintain at least 6 feet distance from others even when wearing a mask.
  • It is important to make sure that the interior of the mask (which is in contact with nose and mouth) remains clean.
    • The interior of the mask should NOT be touched with your hands (unless your hands were cleaned immediately prior).
  • Sanitize or wash your hands thoroughly before and after each time you place the mask on and take it off.

Mask wearing tips

How to put on mask

  • Wash hands or use hand sanitizer before touching the mask.
  • Pick up mask by ear loops.
  • Inspect the mask for tears/holes.
  • Identify the top side. For Level 1 (procedure) masks, this is where the metal piece or stiff edge is.
  • Ensure the correct side faces outward. For Level 1 (procedure) masks, this is the colored side.
  • Place the top inside edge (the metal piece or stiff edge for Level 1 masks) over the nose and secure the ear loops behind the ears.
  • Make sure mask covers mouth, nose and chin without gaps around the sides of your face.
  • Knot the ear lips for a snug fit if needed.
  • Fold and tuck in extra material.
  • Adjust metal piece or stiff edge over nose to ensure a good fit.
  • Wash hands or use hand sanitizer.
Someone is seen picking up a face mask by the ear loops.
The correct way to pick up a mask is by the ear loops.
The proper wearing of a face mask is depicted. The mask covers the wearer's chin, nose and mouth.
This is the proper way to wear a mask. It covers the nose, mouth and chin.

While wearing the mask

  • Avoid touching the mask. If mask adjustment is necessary, sanitize hands immediately before and after touching the mask.
  • Do not wear mask only over mouth or nose. It must cover both.
  • Because the interior of the mask is in contact with the nose and mouth (both potential portals for infection), take extra care so as not to contaminate the interior of the mask.
  • Do not remove the mask to talk to someone, or do other things that would require touching or repositioning the mask.
  • Avoid touching the face, especially while in public areas. Sanitize hands before any contact with face and before and after contact with mask.
  • Social distancing (maintaining 6 feet of distance between yourself and others) should be used wherever possible, especially when you need to remove your mask (e.g., to eat or drink).

How to take off mask

  • Remove mask in an area where it is possible to maintain social distancing (6 feet of distance between yourself and others).
  • Wash hands or use hand sanitizer before touching the mask.
  • Remove mask by holding the ear loops.
  • For Level 1 (procedure) masks, after removing mask, inspect for tears/holes or dampness. Torn or damp Level 1 masks should be discarded and a new mask obtained from the department safety officer or their designee. Otherwise, Level 1 masks should be worn for seven days.
  • Store on a paper towel with front (exterior) side of mask down or place in a clean paper bag until ready for next use. The paper towel can also be folded around the mask (preferably without touching the mask). Label the paper bag or paper towel with your name.
  • Wash hands or use hand sanitizer.
A face mask is seen properly sitting on a paper towel.
Fask masks may be placed carefully on paper towels while temporarily removed for eating and drinking.

What not to do

  • Do not touch face or mask without first sanitizing hands.
  • Do not store the mask under the chin. If eating or drinking, mask should be fully taken off using the instructions on this page, sanitizing hands before and after.
  • Do not store the mask on one ear. The interior of the mask could brush on surfaces or fall, and then become contaminated.
A woman is seen improperly wearing a mask. Its loop is hanging from one ear.
This is incorrect. Masks should not be stored on one ear.
A woman is wearing a mask incorrectly. It is seen under her chin.
This is incorrect. Masks should be taken off to eat or drink.