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Questions about face coverings

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define cloth face coverings as fabric coverings including cloth face masks, scarves and bandana coverings, or any homemade face covering made of cotton fabric.

The CDC also makes clear that cloth face coverings should:

  • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • Be secured with ties or ear loops
  • Include multiple layers of fabric
  • Allow for breathing without restriction
  • Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

You can find more information on the CDC's website.

Effective June 26, 2020, a statewide order requires individuals to wear a face covering over their nose and mouth while in an indoor public setting where you’ll likely come into contact with another person. You are also required to wear a cloth face covering while you’re in an outdoor public setting—like a farmers market or a crowded park—where it is difficult to maintain six feet of physical distance at all times.

There are exemptions, including people with certain disabilities or health conditions, people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and children under the age of 5 (though it's encouraged to have children ages 3-5 wear a covering if possible). There are also situations when you can remove your face covering, such as when seated at a restaurant or when recreating alone.

You do not need to wear a cloth face covering in your home when you are only with people in your household, or when you are alone in your car. You do not need to wear one when you are outdoors and people are far apart.

The primary strategies to prevent COVD-19 transmission have been and continue to be avoiding people who are ill, physical distancing, good hand washing, and avoiding nonessential contact with others. These strategies have worked together to decrease the intensity and peak of our outbreak and the number of COVID-19 illnesses.

Since our outbreak was identified in February and early March, the importance of COVID-19 transmission from people who do not have symptoms has been increasingly recognized.

As the state gradually begins to reopen, residents are more likely to come into contact with each other providing opportunities for COVID-19 spread. In addition, because the number of COVID-19 cases has begun to rise again across the state, the Washington State Department of Health has determined that cloth face coverings should be re-emphasized as part of our strategy to decrease the risk of a resurgence in cases in this unprecedented situation.

There has been limited research on the efficacy of cloth face coverings in preventing spread of COVID-19, but studies have shown that well-made face coverings that fit snugly against the wearer's chin and face, have multiple layers, and do not impede the wearer’s ability to breathe may reduce the transmission of large respiratory droplets. Learn more about the science behind face coverings.

When to wear a face covering

You must wear a cloth face covering over your nose and mouth in an indoor public setting and at outdoor public spaces where it is difficult to maintain six feet of physical distance at all times. This means you don't need to wear a face covering when you're outside walking, but you would be directed to wear one while at a farmers market or visiting a crowded park where social distancing is not possible to maintain. You are directed to wear a cloth face covering for the entire duration of the time you're in either of those settings.

Face coverings are not directed to be worn when:

  • At home
  • In your car alone or if you're only with members of your household
  • Exercising outdoors, like walking, hiking, bicycling, or running, when appropriate social distancing is possible

It's recommended to have a face covering with you and ready to use when in public for times when maintaining physical distancing is not possible.

Yes. Face coverings should not be worn by children who are two years of age or younger. Children ages 3-4 are encouraged to wear a face covering when possible. Additionally, if wearing a face covering would be difficult or harmful, an individual should not do so. Examples would be someone who has a physical disability that makes it difficult to easily wear or remove a face covering; someone who is deaf and uses facial and mouth movements as part of communications; someone who has been advised by a medical professional to not wear one; or someone who has trouble breathing or cannot remove a face covering without assistance.

Yes, King County now requires individuals to wear face coverings while riding King County Metro buses. Metro operators will not prevent passengers without face coverings from boarding, but recorded reminders will play on the vehicle's public address system informing riders of the face covering policy. Security officers will communicate public health guidance to riders who are not wearing a face covering or staying apart from other passengers.

It depends. You are directed to wear a cloth face covering at outdoor public spaces where you're unable to maintain six feet of distance from other people. This means you don't need to wear a face covering when you're outside in your neighborhood walking if you are able to keep six feet of distance from others, but you should wear one while at a farmers market or outdoor takeout location.

If you believe that you could come within six feet of another individual while on a walk, at a park, or in another outdoor setting, you are required to wear a face covering.

Yes. Rideshares and taxis are considered indoor public settings for the purposes of this directive.

We hope most people will wear a face covering to protect the health of their friends and loved ones. However, this state order includes an enforcement element—not following the order may result in a misdemeanor subjecting the violator to a fine of up to $100 and/or up to 90 days in county jail.

Please remember - if you see someone not wearing a face covering, there is no action you should take. Some people are unable to wear face coverings for good reasons, including people with disabilities and those with specific health or safety concerns. If you see someone without a face covering, please extend the benefit of the doubt and respect others’ decisions. No one should be subjected to stigmatization, bias or discrimination for wearing or not wearing a face covering. Default to understanding rather than judgement.

Nothing. Some people have conditions or circumstances that would make wearing a cloth face covering difficult or dangerous. Just wear your mask and stay six feet away.

Kids, just like adults, can get infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. Kids are more likely to have a mild illness, so you may not know that they're sick and spreading the virus. In addition, it's harder for kids to be isolated when sick in order to limit spread to others. Face coverings provide some potential benefit in reducing the spread of infection from a child who may have COVID-19 to others.

We know this may be challenging. It's always helpful to explain to kids why you're asking them to do something. In this case, you can explain that wearing the face covering will help keep them from getting other people sick. It can be helpful to relate the explanation to people who are close to them, like grandparents or parents. Even though their grandparent might live in another state, you can explain that the people they pass in the grocery store or doctor's office might be another person's grandparent, and we want to keep those grandparents safe. This article from the WA State Department of Health has more tips.

Yes. The Department of Labor & Industries requires employers to provide at no cost appropriate face coverings or masks that must be worn by all employees and volunteers who don't work alone.

King County has made progress to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, but most people do not have immunity to the disease and remain susceptible. As a community, we remain vulnerable to a surge of new cases that could make many more people ill and overwhelm our health care system’s ability to treat those with the most serious complications of the disease.

The CDC recommends that in communities like King County, where there is significant community-based transmission, all individuals cover their noses and mouths with a cloth face covering that has a snug fit to prevent inadvertently spreading the COVID-19 virus while interacting with others outside their homes when they are unable to maintain six feet of distance. Cloth masks should have two or more layers of tightly woven fabric such as cotton and cotton blends that are breathable and provide a snug fit without gaps.

While facial coverings do not replace proper hygiene or social distancing, a snug-fitting cloth face covering may help to protect others and slow community spread of COVID-19 by blocking infectious droplets from spreading when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes or speaks. Choose masks that offer two or more layers of tightly woven fabric such as cotton and cotton blends that are breathable and provide a snug fit without gaps.

We know that one key transmission method for the COVID-19 virus is through respiratory droplets, and growing evidence suggests that a significant number of infections are transmitted by asymptomatic people who are expelling those infectious droplets.

You are required to wear a cloth face covering for the entire duration of the time you're in a public indoor setting or outdoor public gathering space and unable to maintain six feet of distance from other people.

What kind of coverings to wear

Members of the general public should not purchase medical grade or surgical masks at this time, as there is a serious shortage of face masks for health care workers. Medical masks should be reserved for health care providers who are on the front lines working to protect us all. Please avoid shopping for surgical, N95 respirator, or other medical masks.

If you have an N95 respirator or other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that you would like to donate:

Disposable masks, such as dust masks, may be used if they cover the nose and mouth and provide a snug fit. If possible, consider wearing a second mask to add another layer of protection. It is recommended that masks have 2-3 fabric layers of tightly woven fabric such as cotton and cotton blends that are breathable and provide a snug fit without gaps. Check the labeling on the box to avoid purchasing medical-grade masks (which may be labeled as surgical, isolation, dental or medical procedure masks).

No, vented masks are not acceptable face coverings. These masks are designed to keep particulates out of the lungs, such as wildfire smoke. They do not block droplets from reaching others like cloth face coverings do.

Transparent face shields aren't a direct substitute for face coverings because they don't protect others. Droplets released when someone coughs, sneezes, or speaks can be dispersed through the sides and bottom of the shield. Shields are useful for protecting the wearer from other people's sneezes and coughs.

Face shields can be helpful for certain situations, such as to assist communication with people who are deaf or hard of hearing. If two people in close contact are both wearing face shields, both people are protected.

Worn face coverings may be contaminated with infectious agents. You should wash your face covering after each use in a washing machine. If you don’t have access to a washing machine, you can clean your cloth face covering by vigorously lathering it in soap and hot water for at least 20 seconds.

Before and after you put on your cloth face covering, you should clean your hands either with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or with soap and water.

Where to get a face covering

Public Health is currently engaging community partners to determine which local businesses and organizations may be looking to share or sell face coverings.

King County has purchased 25 million cloth and disposable masks in an effort to provide these critical supplies to our communities as we enter new phases of re-opening in the wake of COVID-19. We are working with community organizations and local governments to distribute these face coverings. Visit this webpage for more information about accessing free face coverings.

King County's regional donations connector is collecting donations of cloth face coverings and many other needed items for the COVID response.