Face Coverings vs Face Masks

Thumbnail: MDH poster: How to Safely Wear Your Mask
How to Safely Wear Your Mask” downloadable poster (MDH)

The Minnesota Department of Health has adopted Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance on “high-quality face coverings.”

This guidance now differentiates between “face covering” and “face mask”, which may cause confusion as “mask” has become somewhat of a generic term for any mask or face covering. Adding to the confusion, many commonly used online resources are still updating to reflect this language change and may still refer to masks rather than face coverings.

From the Minnesota Department of Health website:

MDH recommends wearing a high-quality mask to help limit the spread of COVID-19, including variants like Omicron. Examples of high-quality masks are N95 or KN95 masks, which are very good at blocking droplets. If you cannot get that type of mask, wear a well-fitting mask with at least two layers of tightly woven fabric. You can also layer a disposable mask under a cloth mask to increase effectiveness.

The CDC maintains a useful online resource, “Your Guide to Masks“, which includes helpful illustrations for how to select face coverings, along with helpful tips for special situations like use of gaiters or face shields, or how to improve fit if you have a beard, and how to correctly wear, and remove a mask.

A compliant face covering must completely cover the nose and mouth, and also:

  • be made with two or more layers of a tightly woven, breathable fabric that does not let light pass through when held up to a light source;
  • is secured to the head with ties, ear loops, or elastic bands that go behind the head. If gaiters are worn, they should have two layers of fabric or be folded to make two layers;
  • fit snugly over the nose, mouth, and chin with no large gaps on the outside of the face; and
  • is a solid piece of material without slits, exhalation valves, visible holes, punctures, or other openings.

OSHA’s definition of “face covering” includes those with a clear plastic panel that, despite the non-cloth material allowing light to pass through, otherwise meet this definition. These coverings may be used for communication with people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing or others who need to see a speaker’s mouth or facial expressions to understand speech or sign language.

A “face mask” is a surgical, medical procedure, dental, or isolation mask that is FDA-cleared, authorized by an FDA emergency use authorization, or offered or distributed as described in an FDA enforcement policy. Face masks may also be referred to as “medical procedure masks.”

For complete information, visit OSHA’s website for vaccination, testing, and face coverings and search the page for “definitions.”