Pa. Department of Health Offers Mask Wearing Tips

| August 13, 2020

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Department of Health has offered a number of tips related to the wearing of masks under the current Universal Face Coverings Order.

According to the Department of Health (DOH), under Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine’s Order Requiring Universal Face Coverings, a “face covering” means a covering of the nose and mouth that is secured to the head with ties, straps, or loops over the ears or is wrapped around the lower face.

Face coverings under the order can be made of a variety of synthetic or natural fabrics, including cotton, silk, or linen, and, for the purposes of the order, can include a plastic face shield that covers the nose and mouth. “Face coverings” may be factory-made, sewn by hand, or improvised from household items, including but not limited to, scarves, bandanas, t-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels.

Under the order, individuals are required to wear a face covering, in both indoor public places and in the outdoors when they are not able to consistently maintain social distancing from individuals who are not members of their household. This includes busy sidewalks, outdoor lines, and anywhere people are congregating.

The order also applied to all shared indoor spaces, from stores and restaurants to offices and government facilities.

The DOH states individuals must wear face coverings unless wearing a face covering would create an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task, and “mere discomfort is not considered a risk to an individual’s health or safety.” However, the DOH website also notes face shields are an acceptable alternative to face masks when high temperatures and humidity create unsafe conditions.

Exemptions to Mask Order

There are some exemptions to the universal mask order.

According to the DOH, individuals must wear a face covering unless the mask impedes their vision, they have a medical or mental health condition or disability that impedes their ability to wearing of a face covering, particularly one that creates respiratory problems for the individual, or if wearing a face covering would create an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task.

A more comprehensive list of the exceptions can be found in Section 3 of the Order. However, the DOH states an individual who cannot wear a face covering due to a medical or mental health condition or disability should consider wearing a face shield.

The Order Applies to Children Over Age Two

According to the DOH, the order applies to children over the age of two. The DOH recognizes that getting younger children to be comfortable wearing face coverings and to keep them on may create some difficulties, adding that parents, guardians, licensed child care providers in community-based and school settings or responsible persons may consider prioritizing the wearing of face coverings to times when it is difficult for the child to maintain a social distance of at least six feet from others who are not a part of their household (e.g., during carpool drop off or pick up, or when standing in line at school).

Any child who cannot wear a face covering due to a medical condition, including those with respiratory issues that impede breathing, a mental health condition, or disability, and children who would be unable to remove a face covering without assistance, are not required to wear face coverings, the DOH notes.

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Exception for Individuals Who Are Hearing Impaired or Disabled

There is also an exception in the case of individuals who are communicating or seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing impaired or who has another disability, where the ability to see the mouth is essential to communication, though the DOH notes other face coverings, such as plastic face shields, may also accommodate such disabilities.

Types of Face Coverings That Comply With the Order

The DOH notes that cost can be a factor for many Pennsylvanians, and states that face coverings, including masks do not need to be purchased. They may be made with readily available items. Click here for directions on how to make a homemade mask. There are types of “face coverings” other than a mask that may be worn to comply with the Order. Face coverings may be factory-made, sewn by hand, or improvised from household items, including but not limited to scarves, bandanas, t-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels.

Requirements for Businesses

According to the DOH, businesses should deny entry to anyone not wearing a face covering such as a mask. However, if a business provides medication, medical supplies, or food, that business must offer another means for the customer to purchase goods if the customer is unable to wear a face covering, such as a mask. Those means could include home delivery or contactless curbside pick-up.

The DOH states businesses that do not provide medication, medical supplies, or food should consider providing services through home delivery or contactless curbside pick-up where possible.

The DOH notes the Order does not require a customer to be turned away if the customer fits within an exception to the Order. The Order states that an individual is not required to show documentation that an exception applies.

If the customer is refused service, and if the business is not able to provide a face covering, the DOH recommends the business consider providing information on mask making, distributing “how to” flyers, or sharing information about where masks can be purchased. However, if a customer is belligerent or aggressive in refusing to wear a mask or other face covering, there is no expectation that an employee should force a customer to comply or put themselves in a potentially dangerous situation.

The DOH emphasizes that it does not expect businesses to put employees in harm’s way.


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