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Rockefeller University Policy on Face Covering: Updated January 21, 2022

The University policy is informed by recommendations issued by the CDC, the level of vaccination in our community, COVID infection rates in the region and the nation, and evidence of increased infectiousness of the Omicron variant.

Effective July 28, 2021, all RU/HHMI employees and students are required to wear face covering everywhere indoors on campus with the following exceptions (please note that none of these exceptions apply to unvaccinated individuals, who must wear face coverings at all times while on campus premises, indoors and outdoors):

    • Employees in single occupancy offices are not required to wear masks while alone in the office.
    • Residents of GSR and SF do not need to wear masks or face coverings in their apartments but must wear them in public areas of the buildings.
    • Face covering can be removed for brief periods to eat or drink; social distancing must be maintained.
    • Employees covered by the University Hot Environment Program are permitted to remove face coverings for frequent breaks when working in the hot environment as long as they are at least six feet separated from any other person.
    • Meetings should all be virtual unless in-person meetings are essential. Essential in-person business meetings and presentations involving fully vaccinated people require masks and participants must maintain social distancing. In such in-person meetings, everyone must wear a face mask, with the exception of someone presenting/speaking who can maintain at least eight feet social distance from the others. Virtual access to such meetings must be made available to anyone who does not want to be present in person. Eating/drinking is not permitted during these meetings.
    • When conference/meeting rooms are being used for eating/drinking, social distancing must be maintained between people who have removed face covering to eat/drink so the permissible capacity is reduced, which is also indicated on the revised signage.

The change in the University masking policy is a direct response to the recent wave of COVID-19 infections in our community caused by SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant. Although the risk of serious illness in vaccinated people is low, and the risk of transmission between vaccinated people is even lower, the use of a face mask or covering can potentially prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 from infected people who are asymptomatic to others. Face masks work best when everyone wears them. The video highlighted in this article illustrates droplet spread from someone speaking with and without a cloth face covering. Wearing a mask or face covering is a complementary measure, not a replacement for established preventive measures, which include vaccination and boosters, physical distancing, respiratory etiquette, meticulous hand hygiene and avoiding touching the face, nose, eyes and mouth.

Obtaining a face covering

RU employees may use their personally-owned face coverings on campus.

Ear-loop 3-ply surgical masks are available to Laboratories and Departments from the University Stockroom (Stock Item # 179200) for distribution to laboratory or department staff members.

Beginning January 6, 2022, the University has made KN95 masks available to all employees and students. The University strongly encourages use of KN95s on campus. More information about care and use of KN95s is provided below.

The University continues to offer enrollment in the Respiratory Protection Program for issuance of N95 respirators at the request of the Head of Laboratory or Head of Department for employees who commute to the University using public transportation. Request for enrollment should be sent by the Head of Laboratory or Department to restart@rockfeller.edu.

Acceptable face covering

All face coverings, whether disposable or reusable, must

      • fully cover the nose and mouth and secure under the chin;
      • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face; and
      • be secured with ties or ear loops, allowing one to remain hands-free.

We recommend that you use face coverings made of at least two layers of breathable material and encourage the use of three-ply or KN95 surgical masks.

Face coverings containing valves, mesh material or holes of any kind are not acceptable under this policy.

Note that face shields are not acceptable as substitutes for face coverings. The CDC offers this information:

It is not known if face shields provide any benefit as source control to protect others from the spray of respiratory particles. CDC does not recommend use of face shields for normal everyday activities or as a substitute for cloth face coverings. Some people may choose to use a face shield when sustained close contact with other people is expected. If face shields are used without a mask, they should wrap around the sides of the wearer’s face and extend to below the chin. Disposable face shields should only be worn for a single use. Reusable face shields should be cleaned and disinfected after each use.

Therefore, unless a face shield is coupled with a face mask, it is not considered an acceptable face covering under this policy.

The CDC provides additional guidance on face coverings. This guidance was updated on April 19, 2021 with information about choosing and fitting a mask, mask fitters and braces, double-masking and KN95s.

Face mask dos and don’ts

Face masks are only effective for protection if they are handled, worn, stored and disposed of properly. And wearing one does not negate the need for maintaining appropriate social distance, hand and cough/sneeze hygiene and avoiding touching one’s face.

    • Do practice proper hand hygiene. Before and after handling the mask (to put on, adjust, or take off), either wash your hands or use hand sanitizer to reduce cross-contamination risk. The outside of the mask should always be considered dirty.
    • Do mark the outside of the mask in some way so you can easily identify which side is the outside of the mask and handle it accordingly.
    • Always store a mask in a clean place. Never store it in a purse or pocket.
    • Don’t touch the outside of your mask while it is on your face.
    • Don’t pull your mask below your chin while you are wearing it. Leaving the mask dangling or improperly fitted to your face creates opportunities for cross-contamination.
    • If you choose to double mask, be sure to wear any disposable mask under a cloth mask. Do not wear two disposable masks. Do not use two masks at a time if it makes breathing difficult.
    • Designs and graphics on face coverings should be appropriate for the University setting.

Use and care of KN95s
How do I properly use my KN95?

  • Wash or sanitize your hands immediately before and after putting your KN95 on and immediately before and after taking it off when planning to reuse it.
  • Unfold your mask and flatten the metal nose clip.
  • Place the mask over your face, with the bottom below your chin and the nosepiece up.
  • Place the straps of the mask over each of your ears.
  • Adjust the metal nose clip using fingers from both hands to mold the clip to the shape of the bridge of your nose.
  • Adjust fit as necessary to reduce air flow around the mask.

Please note: Significant facial hair (more than 3-days growth) adversely affects the ability of the KN95 to form a tight seal around your face and thus reduces the KN95’s effectiveness. The parts of your face that come in contact with the KN95 should be free of facial hair.

How should I care for and store my KN95?

  • DO NOT attempt to wash your KN95. With proper care, your KN95 should be reusable for an extended period of time.
  • To keep your KN95 clean between uses, store your mask in a safe location where it will not get wet or be subject to direct sunlight or excessive heat. A dry paper bag works well for storing your KN95.
  • KN95s may be disinfected using the specialized UV chambers available on campus. Chambers are located in CRC A level, WRB 2nd floor lobby, KRB 1st floor lobby, with additional Chambers at the CFC for use by CFC staff. Instructions for operation of the Chambers is posted next to these units. The disinfection treatment takes two minutes. Make sure to hand the mask from the nose piece, not ear loops.

When should I discard my KN95?
As general guidance, the KN95 can be used for at least five days. You should replace your KN95 when it:

  • Becomes soiled
  • Breathing through it becomes difficult
  • No longer covers the nose and mouth
  • Has stretched out or damaged ties or straps
  • Does not stay tight on the face
  • Has holes or tears in the fabric

A used KN95 may be disposed of in the normal trash.

OSHA requires that employers supply Appendix D of the Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR 1910.134) to all employees voluntarily using respiratory protection such as KN95s. Appendix D of 29 CFR 1910.134 is available on-line. Hardcopies of the Appendix are available from LS&EH.

Questions about use and care of KN95s may be posed to labsafety@rockefeller.edu.