Who must wear masks in schools?
Everyone. Executive Order 2021-18 requires that all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to pre-K-12 schools wear a mask while indoors, regardless of vaccination status.
The following categories of people are exempted from the requirement to wear a mask:
Children under 2 years of age.
A person who cannot wear a mask or cannot safely wear a mask because of a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.). Schools and districts should discuss the possibility of a reasonable accommodation with workers who are unable to wear a mask, or who have difficulty wearing certain types of masks because of a disability.
A person for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health, safety, or job duty as determined by the relevant workplace safety guidelines or federal regulations.
Appropriate mask use (i.e., covering over face AND nose, correct fit across the face, and the correct material used for masking) is essential to prevent transmission. See CDC guidance.
What kind of mask should students and staff wear at school?
See the CDC guide to masks for more information on choosing an appropriate mask. IDPH also recommends the following for students, staff, and other individuals in schools:
Masking at work: Consider choosing from the list of masks reported to meet the new CDC Workplace Performance standard. To date, CDC has identified only two brands that meet the new recommended standards.
Masking at school and in the community: Consider choosing from the list of masks reported to meet the new ASTM standard for barrier face coverings. When possible, choose a surgical mask over a cloth mask. When choosing cloth masks, make sure the mask is washable, breathable, has at least two layers, and fits correctly.
Any mask should fit snugly over the nose and chin with no large gaps around the side of the face. Ways to improve a mask’s fit include using a nose clip or nose wire, tying a simple knot in the ear loops, or using a brace over the mask to prevent leaks. See other suggestions from the CDC on ways to improve how a mask protects you.
When choosing a cloth mask, look for those made of tightly woven fabrics with two or more layers. Scarves and other loosely woven fabrics offer less protection.
One way to ensure a mask has enough layers is to wear two. For example, wear a two-layer cotton mask over a surgical mask.
Are masks required during extracurricular activities?
Yes, when indoors and outdoors for days 6 through 10 for an asymptomatic person returning from five days of isolation, quarantine, or exclusion, or for 10 days for all individuals, regardless of vaccination status, who were exposed to a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19. All teachers, staff, students, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, must wear a mask while indoors at school, including during sports and other extracurricular activities. All individuals who are currently not being monitored as close contacts, regardless of vaccination status, may remove masks when outdoors during sports and other extracurricular activities, except during activities that are crowded. CDC recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated, especially in communities with substantial to high transmission. Those who are fully vaccinated may also wear masks outdoors when in crowded environments, should they wish to do so.
See the IDPH sports guidelines for more information.
What is the primary purpose of a mask?
Masks act as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the mask coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. This is called source control. The primary purpose of a mask is to prevent the wearer from potentially exposing or infecting others. To be effective, masks must be worn properly and must completely cover both the nose and mouth.
According to the CDC scientific brief on community use of cloth masks to control the spread of SARS-CoV-2, there are at least 10 studies confirming the benefit of masks, with each analysis demonstrating that “following directives from organizational and political leadership for universal masking, new infections fell significantly.” The research shared in the brief also supports that “mask wearing has no significant adverse health effects for wearers,” including no change in oxygen or carbon dioxide levels and minimal impacts on respiration.
When should a mask be changed?
Masks must be changed immediately if soiled, wet, or torn.
What are the recommendations as to when a mask may be removed for students and staff?
Executive Order 2021-18 requires universal indoor masking for all teachers, students, staff, and visitors to pre-K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. However, masks may be temporarily removed at school in the following circumstances:
For children while they are napping with close monitoring to ensure no child leaves their designated napping area without putting their mask back on.
For staff when alone in classrooms or offices with the door closed.
For staff and students when they are outdoors. However, particularly in areas of substantial to high transmission, per CDC COVID Data Tracker or IDPH’s COVID-19 County & School Metrics, staff and students who are not fully vaccinated should wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated.
What PPE is required by school nurses who are assessing a student or staff member reporting COVID-19-like symptoms?
If the nurse is screening a sick individual, it will be safest for them to be wearing a fit-tested N95 respirator, eye protection with face shield or goggles, gown, and gloves. When performing clinical evaluation of a sick individual, school nurses will use enhanced droplet and contact transmission-based precautions. Staff performing this evaluation should use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) including:
Fit-tested N95 respirator
Eye protection with face shield or goggles
Any staff member who may be involved in the assessment or clinical evaluation of a student or staff member with COVID-19-like symptoms should be trained on the type of PPE required and how to don (put on) and doff (remove) it correctly and safely.
Respirators, such as N95s, must be used as part of a written respiratory protection program. OSHA requires that N95 respirators be fit tested prior to use. This is an important step to ensure a tight fit for the respirator to be effective in providing protection. If a fit-tested N95 respirator is not available, the next safest levels of respiratory protection include, in the following order: a non-fit-tested N95 respirator, a KN95 respirator on the FDA-approved list, or a surgical mask.
What are the recommendations on using a face shield in lieu of a mask?
Because respiratory droplets may be expelled from the sides and bottom of face shields, they do not provide adequate 'source control' and should only be used as a substitute for face coverings in the following limited circumstances:
Individuals who are under the age of 2.
Individuals who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the cover without assistance.
Individuals who provide a health care provider’s note as documentation that they have a medical contraindication (a condition that makes masking absolutely inadvisable) to wearing a face covering.
Teachers needing to show facial expressions where it is important for students to see how a teacher pronounces words (e.g., English learners, early childhood, foreign language, etc.). However, teachers will be required to resume wearing face coverings as soon as possible. Preferred alternatives to teachers wearing face shields include clear face coverings or video instruction. There must be strict adherence to physical distancing when a face shield is utilized.
How should schools handle students who cannot tolerate a face covering or a face shield due to a medical contraindication?
Students who are unable to wear a face covering or face shield due to a medical contraindication may not be denied access to in-person education. Staff working with students who are unable to wear a face covering or shield due to a medical contraindication should wear approved and appropriate PPE based on job specific duties and risks and maintain physical distancing as much as possible. Other students should also remain physically distant from students who are unable to wear a face covering or face shield due to a medical contraindication. Those unable to wear a well-fitted mask should be excluded for 10 days.
What are the recommendations on using a neck warmer in lieu of a cloth mask?
It is not known if athletic face coverings/neck warmers provide any benefit as source control to protect others from the spray of respiratory particles. CDC guidance allows neck warmers (e.g., gaiters) if they are at least two layers or fold into at least two layers.
What kind of PPE is required for staff who clean areas used by a suspected or known COVID-19 case?
If a janitor is cleaning an area used by a suspected or known COVID-19 case, it is safest for them to wear a fit-tested N95 respirator, eye protection with face shield or goggles, gown, and gloves.
Can clear masks be utilized?
While cloth masks are encouraged to reduce the spread of COVID-19, CDC recognizes there are specific instances when wearing a cloth mask may not be feasible. In these instances, parents, guardians, caregivers, teachers, staff, and school administrators should consider adaptations and alternatives whenever possible. They may need to consult with health care providers for advice about wearing cloth masks and any available adaptations or alternatives.
People who are deaf or hard of hearing—or those who care for or interact with a person who is hearing impaired—may be unable to wear cloth masks if they rely on lipreading to communicate. This may be particularly relevant for faculty or staff teaching or working with students who may be deaf or hard of hearing. In this situation, faculty and staff should consider using a clear mask that covers the nose and wraps securely around the face. If a clear mask is not available, consider whether faculty and staff can use written communication (including closed captioning) and decrease background noise to improve communication while wearing a cloth mask that blocks their lips.
In addition to those who interact with people who are deaf or hard of hearing, the following groups of teachers and staff may also consider using clear masks:
Teachers of young students (e.g., teaching young students to read)
Teachers of students who are English language learners
Teachers of students with disabilities