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Masking and Physical Distancing

Posted by on Tuesday, May 25, 2021 in .

Vanderbilt University has updated its COVID-19 health and safety protocols in accordance with a new executive order issued by the White House. As part of the federal government’s “Path Out of the Pandemic: COVID-19 Action Plan,” the executive order requires organizations with federal contracts, including Vanderbilt, to comply with certain masking and physical distancing protocols. The requirements extend to all employees of federal contractors, which includes all Vanderbilt students, faculty, staff and postdocs, and to visitors on campus.

Signs have been posted throughout campus as a reminder of the updated protocols.

The executive order requires the following measures in areas of high or substantial community transmission, which currently includes Davidson County.

  • Masks are now required for fully vaccinated individuals indoors, including in common areas or shared workspaces (open-floor plan offices, cubicles and conference rooms) even when physical distancing is possible. Masks are not required when alone in an office or for a limited time while eating or drinking and maintaining physical distancing. Guidance for students’ residence hall rooms remains the same.
  • Masks are now required for individuals who are not fully vaccinated in crowded outdoor settings (athletic events, concerts, gatherings) or during outdoor activities that involve sustained close contact with others who are not fully vaccinated. They also should maintain physical distance from others at all times, to the extent practicable. Individuals who are not fully vaccinated also continue to be required to mask indoors as described above.

Since the above protocols are tied to the community transmission level in Davidson County, Vanderbilt will continue to monitor the CDC’s COVID-19 Data Tracker County View and update the university’s protocols should the community transmission level reach a sustained moderate or low level.

The university requires that all students, postdocs, faculty and staff be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have an approved accommodation. The university will continue to follow the latest scientific updates and develop its plans in close consultation with experts at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, as well as national, state and local public health officials.

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 office. Students who believe they require an accommodation are encouraged to contact Student Access.

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.)