Face coverings guidance
Updated 6 September 2021
The University moved to Level 1 of its Business Continuity Planning (BCP) framework on 6 September. Face coverings are no longer mandatory but as part of our ongoing health measures to help keep our staff, students, visitors and the wider community safe – and in consideration of each other – we encourage the wearing of face coverings inside University buildings. Staff, students and visitors are also welcome to wear face coverings if they wish in any setting.
The wearing of face coverings is encouraged while coronavirus remains in general circulation with relatively high case numbers, as more staff and students return to our buildings for the new academic year, and as other changes to health measures are implemented such as the removal of social distancing.
We will keep this guidance under regular review but expect it to be in place until at least the end of Michaelmas term 2021.
Face coverings are not a substitute for other health measures, such as being tested when displaying symptoms and participating in regular asymptomatic testing, self-isolating when unwell or required to by NHS Test & Trace, and regular hand washing. These primary mitigation measures should always be followed.
The wearing of face coverings is encouraged in the following indoor settings:
- In communal areas or when moving around inside buildings (e.g. entrance halls, corridors, staircases, lifts, toilets, kitchens and social spaces)
- During in-person teaching of larger groups. Face coverings will not be expected in smaller group teaching, seminars and classes
- In libraries and museums
- Where local risk assessment recommends their use (e.g. in spaces that are less well-ventilated).
Where University departments are embedded in hospital buildings, then local guidance or requirements in the hospital setting will take precedence over this guidance.
Colleges will adopt and communicate local guidance in respect of the wearing of face coverings in their buildings.
If you need more information then please refer to the frequently asked questions
Why is the University continuing to encourage the wearing of face coverings in some settings?
Transmission of COVID-19 is ongoing and wearing of face coverings is one of a number of ongoing health measures that can help protect and reassure members of the University and visitors to our buildings. This is particularly the case as the number of people returning to buildings increases and other restrictions (such as social distancing) are removed.
This guidance is informed by advice from senior clinicians and public health experts at the University. A key route of transmission of COVID-19 is through the air by droplets and aerosols that are exhaled from the nose and mouth of an infected person. The wearing of a face covering can therefore play a role in reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
Whilst the legal requirement to wear face coverings in some settings has been removed, the government continues to promote their use particularly in crowded places.
Who does the guidance apply to?
The guidance applies to all staff, students, visitors, contractors and members of the public across all University buildings. It is recognised that some people are unable to wear face coverings (see below).
What about those people who are unable to wear a face covering?
There are some people who are not able to wear a face covering. This includes those:
- not able to put on, wear, or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
- for whom putting on, wearing, or removing a face covering would cause severe distress.
It is not appropriate to challenge someone who is not wearing a face covering. It should be assumed that there is a legitimate reason why they are not.
Where will I be encouraged to wear a face covering?
The wearing of face coverings is encouraged when entering University buildings, when moving around within buildings, and in communal and shared areas and facilities. Students are encouraged to wear face coverings for in-person teaching (excluding smaller group teaching – see below). Face coverings are encouraged in libraries and museums. In addition, local risk assessments might identify times when face coverings are advised in various spaces (e.g. when spaces are crowded or where spaces are less well-ventilated).
Are face coverings encouraged in all teaching settings?
The wearing of a face covering by students is encouraged in larger group in-person teaching settings. Students need not wear face coverings in smaller group teaching, seminars and classes (this might typically be smaller group teaching of up to 15 people). A tutor or a student may request that those present wear face coverings in these settings. In addition, a local risk assessment of the setting might recommend the use of face coverings (regardless of the group size), for example in spaces that would be crowded for the number of people or are less well-ventilated. Teaching staff may choose to remove face coverings when teaching where this enables them to deliver their teaching more effectively.
For some forms of teaching (e.g. language teaching) removal of face coverings by students may be necessary to ensure effective teaching and learning outcomes. In general, such teaching will normally fall within the scope of smaller group teaching and so face coverings do not need to be worn. However, it may still be appropriate for students to not wear face coverings in larger group teaching where this is necessary to enable effective teaching and learning outcomes. In such cases, this should be informed by local risk assessments, including consideration of other mitigations such as ventilation, room layouts, occupancy and distancing.
Do I need to wear a face covering in an office?
Face coverings need not be worn when working in an office setting (particularly as you are generally interacting with the same group of people), but they are encouraged when in or moving around other parts of buildings as set out above.
Can I wear a face covering when working in a laboratory or workshop?
In many laboratory or workshop settings, so long as a face covering fits the individual well, and has no loose parts hanging down that may come into direct contact with other hazards, the risk of contamination is likely to be minimal. However, there will be certain locations or activities where the risk of wearing a face covering for a particular activity is not advised (e.g. due to the risk of contamination of the covering by hazardous substances), and these should be considered as part of the department’s local risk assessments. In these cases, face coverings should (depending on the nature of the hazard) either not be worn or be replaced by disposable ‘surgical masks’.
Does wearing a face covering affect whether I might be deemed a contact of an infected person?
No, the definition of a contact of an infected person under the NHS Test and Trace system (including the NHS COVID App) does not take into account whether face coverings were worn.
How does this guidance apply in hospital buildings?
All staff, students and contractors working on Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trusts (OUH NHS FT) sites are required to wear a face mask at all times in hospital space (e.g. common areas, corridors, shops, wards etc.) and in embedded University space on OUH NHS FT sites. This requirement applies to University staff, students, and contractors. All staff, students and contractors should read the OUH face covering FAQs carefully before they go to work on OUH NHS FT sites.
What should I do if I am concerned that someone is not wearing a face covering?
Signage informing and reminding people of the encouragement to wear face coverings should be displayed prominently on entering buildings and around the building. It is important to remember that some people will have legitimate reasons why they are not able to wear a face covering. Some of these reasons may be hidden and people should not be asked why they are not wearing a face covering.
What should I do if someone asks me to remove my face covering to aid communication or for identification purposes?
Some people rely on lip reading or facial cues to aid communication, and wearing of face coverings by others can make this difficult or impossible. If someone asks you to remove your face covering to assist their communication then you should consider doing so. You might also be asked to remove your face covering for identification purposes (e.g. when entering a building) and you should comply with such a request.
What sort of face covering should I wear?
A face covering should:
cover your nose and mouth while allowing you to breathe comfortably
fit comfortably but securely against the side of the face
be secured to the head with ties or ear loops
be made of a material that you find to be comfortable and breathable, such as cotton
ideally include at least two layers of fabric (the World Health Organisation recommends three depending on the fabric used). The face covering may include a clear panel to allow lip reading and facial clues to aid communication
unless disposable, it should be able to be washed with other items of laundry according to fabric washing instructions and dried without causing the face covering to be damaged.
How should I put on and remove a face covering?
When wearing a face covering you should:
- wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on
- avoid wearing on your neck or forehead
- avoid touching the part of the face covering in contact with your mouth and nose, as it could become contaminated with the virus
- change the face covering if it becomes damp or if you’ve touched it.
When removing a face covering:
- wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before removing
- only handle the straps, ties or clips
- do not share with someone else to use
- if single-use, dispose of it carefully in a residual waste bin and do not recycle
- if reusable, store it in a plastic bag and take it home to wash
- wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser once removed.
The BBC has produced a simple video on 'how not to wear a face mask' that staff and students may find useful.
How should I look after and/or dispose of my face covering?
You should wash reusable face coverings after each time it is worn, in line with manufacturer’s instructions at the highest temperature appropriate for the fabric. Single use face coverings can be disposed of in a residual waste bin (i.e. not a recycling bin).
If you do not have regular access to laundry facilities, you can hand wash your face covering with soap that is suitable for handwashing items, and hot water.
Are face shields/visors an effective alternative to a face covering?
A face shield or visor does not provide the same degree of reduction in the risk of transmission of the virus from an infected person to others compared to a close-fitting face covering. This is because shields/visors do not adequately cover the nose and mouth and trap airborne particles.