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Masking and Physical Distancing

Posted by on Tuesday, May 25, 2021 in .

We know today that the delta variant has fueled a rise in infections in Nashville and beyond and that vaccinated people infected with the variant are, in some cases, able to transmit the virus. However, we also know that vaccinated people are robustly protected against the disease. Breakthrough infections among the vaccinated are rare and, in most cases, produce only mild symptoms. Unfortunately, due to insufficient vaccination rates in our region, there has been a significant increase in infections and hospitalizations, which are almost entirely limited to unvaccinated individuals. To do our part in improving the situation, we are temporarily adjusting on-campus guidance, as outlined below.  

Please carefully read the following updated protocols and guidance for the start of the fall 2021 semester. These protocols are effective beginning Monday, August 16. 

  • Masks are required indoors on campus, unless noted below. Masks are also required indoors whenever minors are present and at all indoor, off-campus Vanderbilt-hosted events. We will monitor cases and guidance to decide when we may lift this masking protocol.
  • Masks are not required for vaccinated individuals in private offices, or in shared workspaces, classrooms or labs where individuals can stay at least six feet apart. Instructors when lecturing do not have to wear a mask if the instructor can maintain at least six feet of physical distancing from all students at all times. Additionally, roommates who are vaccinated are not required to wear masks when together in their residence hall room or suite.
  • All campus community members and all visitors, including family members and loved ones, will be required to mask during move-in on Aug. 21–22. More detailed information about additional move-in protocols will be shared soon.
  • As of Aug. 2, all visitors are required to wear masks in all indoor spaces on campus.  

The university expects that many members of our campus community will continue to wear face masks/coverings, and the university supports their choice to do so. People who choose to wear masks should not be questioned about them, nor should they be discouraged or prohibited from wearing them.  

Faculty and staff who believe they require a workplace accommodation in light of this change in protocol are encouraged to contact the Equal Opportunity and Access officeStudents who believe they require an accommodation are encouraged to contact Student Access. 


While exercising and performing (including arts performances and practices), individuals should:

  • Conduct these outside when possible;
  • If not possible outside, individuals must be at least six feet apart OR if at least six feet of distance cannot be maintained, wear a mask.

Type and Intended Use of Face Masks

Staff face masks are work attire. Face masks must be clean, plain and free of writing, logos or images other than those of Vanderbilt University. Departments may have additional face mask guidelines. 

Based on CDC guidance and recent updated studies, face masks need to fit the following criteria:

  • Face masks must adhere to CDC guidance.
  • Cotton face masks are allowed as long as they have multiple layers.
  • Any face mask with a one-way exhalation valve is prohibited. These masks allow the wearer to directly exhale into the air, and do not prevent the person wearing the mask from transmitting COVID-19 to others.
  • Neck gaiters are not approved.  The fabric used in neck gaiters has demonstrated through various studies as not being effective. Many neck gaiters are stretchy knit, synthetics or fleece. Those are the least tightly woven fabrics which are least likely to provide a high filtration efficiency. A mask should have a tight weave and low porosity. Other studies can be found here, here, here and here.
  • Scarves and bandanas are not approved, as based on studies they do not provide enough layers to be effective.
  • Face shields are not approved.

Use and Care of Face Masks

Putting on the face mask

  • Wash hands or use hand sanitizer prior to handling the face mask.
  • Ensure the face mask fits over the nose and under the chin.
  • Situate the face mask properly with nose wire snug against the nose (where applicable).
  • Tie straps behind the head and neck or loop around the ears.
  • Throughout the process: Avoid touching the front of the face mask.

Taking off the face mask

  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth when removing the face mask.
  • When taking off the face mask, loop your finger into the strap and pull the strap away from the ear, or untie the straps.
  • Wash hands immediately after removing.

Disposal of face masks

  • Keep face mask stored in a paper bag when not in use.
  • Disposable face masks must not be used for more than one day and should be placed in a trash receptacle.
  • Dispose of a face mask if it is visibly damaged (e.g., stretched ear loops, torn or punctured materials), dirty or visibly contaminated.

Care, storage and laundering of cloth face masks

  • Keep face mask stored in a paper bag when not in use.
  • Cloth face masks may not be used longer than one day at a time and must be washed after use.
  • Disinfecting method: Launder cloth face masks with regular laundry detergent before first use and after each shift. (Disposable masks are not washable.)