Frequently Asked Questions About the Requirement to Wear Face Coverings - Minnesota Dept. of Health
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Frequently Asked Questions About the Requirement to Wear Face Coverings

Updated 4/22/2021

Since July 25, 2020, Governor's Executive Order 20-81 (PDF) has required people in Minnesota to wear a face covering in all indoor businesses and public indoor spaces, unless they are alone. Additionally, workers are required to wear a face covering when working outdoors in situations where social distancing cannot be maintained.

Executive Order 21-11 began Monday, March 15, 2021, at 12 p.m. (noon) and does not have an end date. Executive Order 20-81, requiring face coverings in certain settings, remains in full force and effect, except as amended by Executive Order 21-11. See Face Covering Requirements and Recommendations. In addition, Executive Order 20-81 allows industry guidance to establish additional face covering requirements for each sector, so businesses must comply with additional face covering requirements set forth in this document and other applicable industry guidance.

Research has shown that use of face coverings can greatly reduce the risk of infection when combined with other prevention efforts such as social distancing and hand hygiene.

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About face coverings

The virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to be mostly spread by respiratory droplets released when people talk, cough or sneeze. Many people with COVID-19 do not show any symptoms but can still spread the virus to others, especially those who have had prolonged close contact with another person. Additionally, people can be contagious before they show symptoms of COVID-19. Wearing a face covering will help to protect the people around you if you are infected and do not know it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that people should wear a face covering in public to limit the spread of respiratory droplets, especially in situations where social distancing is hard to maintain. Face coverings along with other measures like good hand hygiene and social distancing work together to slow the spread.

How to wear a face covering (updated 2/12/21)
  • Types of face coverings can include a cloth mask, a neck gaiter, a scarf, a bandanna, or a religious face covering.
  • CDC recommends using two or more layers of tightly woven, washable, breathable fabric when making a cloth face covering. Tightly woven fabrics do not let light pass through but do allow air to pass through the fabric. Face coverings that are made of thinner, loosely woven, or single-layer fabric, such as certain types of masks, scarves, neck gaiters, or bandannas, may not be as effective for blocking droplets that come out when speaking, coughing, or sneezing and should not be used unless there are no alternatives.
  • A paper or disposable mask may be used temporarily, for example, if offered as a condition of entry into a business; however, more substantial face coverings are preferred, especially if maintaining social distancing is difficult or impossible.
  • A face covering must cover the nose and mouth completely and fit snugly against your face without gaps. The covering should not be overly tight or restrictive and should feel comfortable to wear.
  • For children 2 years and older, find a mask that is made for children to help ensure proper fit. Children under age 2 should NOT wear a mask.
  • If you wear glasses, find a mask that fits closely over your nose or one that has a nose wire to limit fogging.
  • Do NOT touch the mask when wearing it. If you often have to touch/adjust your mask, it doesn't fit you properly and you may need to find a different mask or make adjustments.
  • Any masks that incorporate a valve that is designed to facilitate easy exhaling, mesh masks, or masks with openings, holes, visible gaps in the design or material, or vents are NOT sufficient face coverings because they allow droplets to be released from the mask.

Refer to the following resources for additional guidance and tips on how to wear a face covering:

Wearing face coverings in the context of other respiratory diseases, such as tuberculosis and influenza, has been shown to reduce transmission.(1, 2) Model simulations using data from New York and Washington suggest that broad use of face coverings can significantly reduce community transmission of COVID-19 and decrease the number of hospitalizations and deaths.(3) States that have mandated use of face coverings in public have seen a decline in their daily growth rate of COVID-19 cases, and these measures are estimated to have prevented between 230,000 and 450,000 cases.(4) Case studies have shown that universal masking for source control has helped to prevent transmission, including in a hair salon where stylists positive for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) did not transmit to their clients while wearing face coverings.(5) The greatest community benefits are likely to be seen when as many people as possible wear face coverings in combination with other prevention measures, such as social distancing and hand hygiene.

About the face covering requirement

Minnesota has strongly recommended widespread use of face coverings since April. As shown in other states, COVID-19 surges can happen quickly — even in areas with previously low or decreasing case numbers — and with disastrous consequences. Because Minnesota has begun the process of reopening its economy and people are now leaving the home more frequently, smart, simple infection-control measures, like wearing a face covering, are particularly important to prevent further COVID-19 spread. Previously, Minnesota and other states encouraged voluntary compliance with face covering recommendations, but compliance with such recommendations has been inconsistent and face covering requirements have been shown to increase consistent face covering use.(6) Other states are having success controlling the spread of COVID-19 by mandating face coverings in certain settings, in accordance with CDC and WHO recommendations.

Executive Order 20-81 allowed face coverings to be removed temporarily when exercising in a gym or fitness center or similar facility while the level of exertion makes it difficult to wear a face covering, provided that social distancing is always maintained. Other executive orders issued since Executive Order 20-81 replace parts of this order. The most current Executive Order 20-11 requires that face coverings be worn at all times when in a gym or fitness center or similar facility – including when exercising. In addition, Executive Order 21-11 requires sports activities to follow the specific face covering requirements in COVID-19 Organized Sports Practice and Games Guidance for Youth and Adults (PDF).

Executive orders establish the minimum face covering requirements for all Minnesotans. If a local government authority (such as a city or county) establishes requirements that are more protective (in that they require face coverings in more situations), those requirements must be followed.

The goal of the executive orders is to advise Minnesotans that wearing a face covering will protect them, their families, their friends, and others, and the expectation is that Minnesotans will voluntarily comply with the order's requirements. Enforcement is not the goal, but because these requirements are so important for the safety of our communities, Minnesotans who fail to comply with face covering orders may receive a petty misdemeanor citation and a fine of up to $100.

Businesses have heightened responsibility for public safety, given the volume of people that pass through Minnesota businesses on any given day. As such, businesses (and their owners and management) may be subject to criminal charges (up to a misdemeanor, $1,000 fine, and not more than 90 days in jail), civil enforcement and fines (of up to $25,000), and regulatory enforcement (e.g., actions by government authorities that license or regulate the business).

There are people who may not be able to wear face coverings for a variety of reasons and you may not be able to tell why just by looking at a person. Unless you are a business responsible for ensuring worker and customer compliance with the executive orders, do not confront a person about why they are not wearing a face covering an do not report the person to state or local authorities, including law enforcement. Instead, ask the person to maintain social distance, if possible. Face coverings protect others from you, so the best option is for you to continue to wear your face covering and, where possible, to physically distance yourself at least six feet from people not wearing face coverings. Remember, we are all in this together and not everyone is able to wear a face covering.

When to wear a face covering and when you can remove it

Face covering exemptions are highly dependent on the specific condition and symptoms of each person, so the determination of whether a person is exempt from the face covering requirement should involve consultation with a licensed medical provider who is qualified to diagnose the condition at hand. There is no defined list of recognized medical or mental health conditions or disabilities that would prevent someone from wearing a face covering. Even if there were, there can be individual variation in tolerance for wearing a face covering among people with the same condition – one person may tolerate a face covering and another may not.

Moreover, people may believe they should not wear a face covering due to misinformation. Licensed medical providers can assist with providing the most accurate and up-to-date medical information. For example, a person with asthma may be under the wrong assumption that they should not be wearing a face covering, even though the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Recommendations on the use of face masks to reduce COVID-19 transmission notes there is no evidence that wearing a face covering makes asthma worse. In addition, face coverings do not raise the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the air that the mask wearer breathes, as CO2 can escape through the sides of face coverings and is small enough to easily pass through face coverings (the virus that causes COVID-19, by contrast, is a larger particle that cannot pass through face coverings as easily).

For youth exemption questions, MDH recommends consulting guidance from the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (MNAAP) - MNAAP Supports Mask Mandate on this topic. The situations and conditions that pose an actual obstacle to wearing a face covering are limited. MNAAP recommends considering whether a person is capable of physically removing the mask in the event of an emergency. If yes, they should generally wear one. A person may not be able to wear a face covering if they have severe cognitive issues, sensory challenges, significant respiratory impairments (e.g., tracheostomy or on oxygen), or orthopedic or neurologic issues (e.g., cerebral palsy) that would prevent the person from removing a face covering in an emergency.

Finally, it is important to emphasize that the purpose of wearing a face covering is to prevent the risk of COVID-19 transmission. According to the CDC, face coverings likely provide protection for the person wearing the face covering as well as others around them. Many of the conditions that would prevent a person from safely wearing a face covering (e.g., severe respiratory conditions) may also put that person at risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Executive Order 20-55 urges at-risk people to stay at home as much as possible and to practice social distancing if they must go out, and this message is particularly important for those who are unable to wear a face covering.

Face coverings can pose special challenges for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, or who have communication needs or disabilities. Executive orders allow people to temporarily remove their face covering while communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing or who has a condition or disability that makes communication with that person while wearing a face covering difficult. See Best Practices for Masks: Considerations for People with Disabilities and Special Health Needs (PDF). CDC also recommends wearing a face covering with a clear panel or adapting communication to avoid the need to remove a face covering.

Yes. The case count reported by MDH does not account for all cases because a person with COVID-19 may not feel sick or get tested. It is important that all Minnesotans take precautions. Face coverings will help to slow the spread of COVID-19 everywhere in Minnesota and help keep our economy open.

Executive orders allow a person to temporarily remove their face covering when asked to do so to verify their identity – for example, when applying for or renewing a driver's license or identification card. However, businesses and other people or entities that are required or authorized to verify a person's identity are encouraged to use other means of identification that do not require a person to remove their face covering (for example, checking a person's height or eye color against the information on their driver's license or identification card), to the extent possible.

No. People wearing a face covering may possess a handgun under a legal permit to carry in the same manner as a person who is not wearing a face covering.

Yes. Executive orders require face coverings in all indoor businesses and public indoor spaces. While people are not required to wear a face covering in their private living unit, face coverings are required in all common areas of a multi-unit residential building. For people who are unable to wear a face covering due to a medical or mental health condition or disability, landlords, property managers, and homeowners associations must provide a clear means to request a reasonable accommodation to face covering requirements in common areas.

Yes. Executive orders require that face coverings be worn in any indoor public space or indoor business – including polling places. Voters who refuse to wear a face covering within the polling place will be provided with the opportunity to vote using curbside voting procedures which will allow the voter to vote outside and without violating the executive orders.

A voter who refuses to wear a face covering and refuses the curbside option will not be prevented from voting. However, any individual who fails to comply with the executive orders – whether in a polling place or other indoor public space or business – may be subject to a petty misdemeanor citation and a fine of up to $100.

For more information about Election Day voting and other ways to vote, visit Office of Minnesota Secretary of State: Elections & Voting or call 1-877-600-VOTE (8683).

Yes, places of worship need to follow the provisions laid out in Executive Order 20-81. Places of worship must also prepare and implement COVID-19 preparedness plans and follow the guidance found at Stay Safe Guidance for Places of Worship.

A wet face covering may interfere with breathing, so the executive orders allow people to remove their face coverings when participating in activities (e.g., swimming) that will get a face covering wet. Although businesses are allowed to implement stricter face covering requirements than those in the executive orders, businesses are strongly discouraged from requiring face coverings during activities that will get a face covering wet.

Whether people must wear a face covering while exercising depends on where and in what context the activity is taking place. Executive Order 21-11 requires workers, visitors, and members/customers to wear face coverings at all times while in a gym, fitness center, or similar facility – including while exercising. Face coverings also must be worn by all persons at or participating in indoor youth or adult organized sports practices or games. See the COVID-19 Organized Sports Practice and Games Guidance for Youth and Adults (PDF) for more information.

Face coverings are known to provide protection against the spread of COVID-19. Executive Order 20-81 defines a face covering as a covering made of cloth or similar material (ideally consisting of at least two layers) that covers the nose and mouth. Effective face coverings must not incorporate valves, mesh, openings, holes, or visible gaps. Unless stated otherwise in this FAQ or the Stay Safe Guidance for Organized Sports, face coverings meeting this definition must be worn by all athletes participating in indoor organized youth and adult sports.

Some helmets may interfere with wearing a face covering safely or effectively, particularly in the case of younger athletes. Certain equipment manufacturers have developed face shields that attach to helmets and are specifically designed to provide protection against the splashes, sprays, and aerosols that can lead to COVID-19 transmission. While these face shields are a less protective option than face coverings, they may provide some protection. When worn in compliance with manufacturer’s instructions, athletes can consider these face shields as an alternative option when a helmet paired with a face covering poses identified safety concerns. Any face shield worn as a face covering alternative must cover the entire face, extend to the ears and below the chin, and must not have exposed gaps or vents near the eyes, mouth, or nose.

Teams, coaches, or other team leadership should consult with their governing organization or association, as the applicable requirements differ depending on the entity overseeing the sport. Teams may also wish to consult with legal counsel. Further, athletes should consult with their health care provider to determine whether they have a condition that is incompatible with face coverings, and whether it is advisable to participate in sports and risk COVID-19 exposure in light of that condition. For more information about the conditions that pose an obstacle to wearing a face covering, please see the above FAQ addressing “What medical conditions or circumstances would prevent a person from wearing a face covering?”

Executive Order 20-81 does not prohibit teams or coaches from asking athletes for verification of a disability, but there may be federal or state laws that govern disability inquiries and related records. For example, a sports team overseen by a public school may have obligations under the Family and Educational Rights and Privacy Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), among other laws. By contrast, a privately organized sports team may need to look to Title III of the ADA, among other laws. Each organization and team is responsible for understanding and following their own legal obligations relating to claims of disability (which extend beyond the context of face covering exemptions). Like other businesses and organizations, sports teams must offer accommodations to athletes when possible, and these accommodations must provide the exempt individual and others some protection against the risk of COVID-19 transmission (e.g., by allowing the athlete to wear a full face shield instead of a face covering). In addition, athletes are required to comply with specific rules on the topic of medical exemptions that are instituted by leagues, associations, schools, or other entities that oversee organized sports.

As noted in the Stay Safe Guidance for Organized Sports, teams and athletes should be aware that organized sports are not without risk of COVID-19 transmission, and many exempt people are also at risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Teams are strongly encouraged to convey this message to athletes claiming face covering exemptions and are strongly discouraged from providing opportunities for at-risk athletes to participate in activities that pose a heightened risk of transmission.

Businesses and workers

Generally, workers are required to wear a face covering at all times when indoors, when outdoors in situations where social distancing cannot be maintained, or when specific industry guidance has stricter requirements. Please see the Stay Safe Industry Guidance to find information about specific work industries. Industry-specific requirements that differ from or impose greater requirements than Executive Order 20-81 are also summarized at Face Covering Requirements and Recommendations. Businesses are responsible for clearly communicating the applicable requirements to their workers.

The executive order also identifies a number of situations where a face covering may be temporarily removed, such as when a worker is working alone (for example, in an office, a cubicle with walls above face height when social distancing is maintained, or other enclosed space with no other individuals present). In addition, if a worker cannot wear a face covering due to a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability, a business must provide an accommodation to the worker if possible.

Yes, it is the responsibility of the business to require that its workers, customers, and visitors are wearing face coverings consistent with the provisions of Executive Order 20-81.

Businesses must update their COVID-19 preparedness plan to align with the requirements of Executive Order 20-81. Businesses must also communicate to workers and customers that face coverings must be worn when required by the executive order – meaning when indoors for both customers and workers, and also when outdoors for workers when social distancing cannot be maintained – unless circumstances allow for the temporary removal of the face covering. At a minimum, businesses must communicate face covering requirements by clearly posting signage in places that are visible to all workers, customers, and visitors.  A best practice would be for businesses to notify customers about face covering requirements through communication while they are making reservations, appointments, or placing orders for pickup.

Digital and print materials related to the #MaskUpMN campaign are available for download on Minnesota COVID-19 Response: Share Our Message For Businesses.

Executive orders include exemptions to the face covering mandate for people with certain medical conditions, mental health conditions, or disabilities. When a customer or visitor claims to be exempt due to a medical or mental health condition or disability, businesses may not require proof of the condition or disability, or require customers or visitors to explain the nature of their condition or disability. When possible, and as long as it does not pose a health or safety risk to workers or other customers or visitors, businesses must provide accommodations to customers and visitors who are unable to wear a face covering. In all situations, a business must work to reduce worker and customer exposure to people who are unable to wear a face covering. Potential accommodations and steps to reduce exposure to COVID-19 must be based on the most up-to-date public health recommendations and may include one or more of the following:

  • Offering curbside or other contactless pick-up options.
  • Permitting the customer to wear an alternative face covering (e.g., a face shield).
  • Implementing a protocol that ensures strict social distancing is maintained between customers and workers at all times while the customer is indoors (which may be supplemented by additional protective measures, such as installing plexiglass barriers in areas where customers or workers regularly interact, or limiting customer capacity).

If the business cannot reasonably accommodate a customer who is unable to wear a face covering or an alternative in a way that minimizes or eliminates potential exposure to others (for example, if the nature of the business does not allow curbside pick-up and makes strict social distancing impossible or unlikely), or if the customer refuses the accommodations, the best practice to keep workers and customers safe is to decline services to the customer or request that the customer leave the premises.

A customer or visitor who cannot wear a face covering due to a medical or mental health condition or disability is exempt from the face covering requirements of executive orders. A business is not required to allow entry to a customer or visitor not wearing a face covering. However, the business may allow the customer or visitor into their store or workplace, as long as it takes the following into account:

  • A business has to protect its workers from hazards – including COVID-19 infection. If visitors or customers who are not wearing a face covering for medical or mental health reasons are allowed in a store or workplace, the business must take steps to prevent such visitors or customers from posing a hazard to the business’ workers (refer to the question above for additional information about this topic).
  • Under executive orders, a business must, when possible, offer a reasonable accommodation, such as permitting use of an alternate form of face covering (e.g., face shield) or providing service options that do not require a customer to enter the business.
  • Federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), may also create obligations for businesses or employers. You can get more information about the ADA and COVID-19 from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and businesses should talk to their legal representatives for specific advice. In general, a person with a disability should be offered a reasonable accommodation, but it does not have to be their preferred accommodation, as long as what is offered would be effective. If a business has offered several reasonable options and the customer or visitor has refused them all and offered no additional options, the business is justified in declining service to the customer, or requesting that the customer leave the premises or not enter the premises, and should do so. Also, the ADA does not require a business to admit a person or provide a service when doing so would present a direct threat to the health or safety of others – including workers and other customers or visitors.

If a worker claims to be exempt from face covering requirements, businesses must follow the requirements of applicable laws (including civil rights laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Minnesota Human Rights Act) that relate to verification of a worker's condition or disability. Because businesses have to maintain a safe workplace and ensure compliance with executive orders, a business should not allow a worker to work without a face covering without verifying that they need an exemption. Once the exemption is verified, the business should provide any exempt worker an accommodation, as long as it can keep the worker, other workers, and customers and visitors healthy and safe.

A business’ COVID-19 preparedness plan must document the actions it puts in place to lessen or eliminate the risks of COVID-19 exposure posed by exempt workers and must put these measures into practice. Actions should be based on up-to-date public health recommendations. If the worker will interact with customers, visitors, or other workers (particularly when social distancing is not always possible), the employer could offer the worker the option of wearing a face shield as an alternative, if appropriate. If a worker also cannot medically tolerate a face shield, or if a face shield would not be appropriate under the circumstances (for example, in situations where wearing a face shield may be unsafe), the business must lessen or eliminate potential transmission risk in other ways.

For example, the business could develop and implement a protocol to ensure that strict social distancing is maintained between customers and other workers for the worker’s entire shift. This may require changing the worker’s role (e.g., a worker who regularly interacts with customers and/or moves around in close proximity to others could be moved to a role that allows them to work alone in an office, or to a cashier role that allows social distancing to be maintained to the extent possible and the worker is behind a plexiglass or similar barrier whenever social distancing cannot be maintained). Overall, if the business cannot lessen the risks posed by an exempt worker through actions that follow public health recommendations, or if the exempt worker refuses offered accommodations, the business must send the worker home.

When an employee does not claim a legitimate exemption from face covering requirements (for example, due to a disability) but still refuses to wear a face covering, businesses should take appropriate disciplinary action.

If a customer who does not claim a legitimate exemption refuses to comply with face covering requirements, businesses should assess the situation and determine how best to proceed, using normal procedures for dealing with a difficult customer. Because businesses have an obligation to protect their workers from hazards – including COVID-19 infection – businesses must take steps to mitigate or eliminate the risks posed by a person who refuses to wear a face covering.

Here are some best practices to consider:

  • If a customer (or visitor) enters or attempts to enter without a face covering, communicate face covering requirements to the customer, offer the customer a face covering, and request that they put it on.
  • If a customer continues to refuse to wear a face covering, decline services to the customer, or request that the customer not enter the premises or leave the premises.
  • The business may also offer the customer service alternatives, if available, including curbside pick-up, home delivery, or retrieving merchandise for the customer.
  • Based on its assessment of the situation, the business may also determine that there is a need to engage law enforcement to assist.

Nothing in the executive orders provides businesses with the right to physically restrain or remove a noncompliant person when it would not otherwise be legal to do so. Employees and management should avoid direct enforcement in situations that would put themselves or others at risk of harm and instead consider engaging law enforcement.

If workers, acting in good faith, have a reasonable belief that they have been assigned to work in an unsafe and unhealthy manner, they may refuse to perform the job duties assigned if they have requested that the business correct the hazardous conditions.

It is the responsibility of businesses to provide their workers with a safe and healthy workplace. If a customer refuses to wear a face covering, a business needs to take action to mitigate workers’ exposure to the customer, while making reasonable efforts to obtain the customer's compliance.

Businesses are encouraged to provide face coverings for all workers to ensure compliance with the executive orders. If an employer requires that all workers wear the same uniform face covering, such as one with their business logo on it, they will likely purchase the face covering and provide it to workers. However, the law provides that an employer can deduct from a worker’s wages the cost of a uniform, so long as it does not reduce the worker’s pay below the minimum wage for hours worked. The amount of the deduction for a face covering may not exceed the cost of the face covering to the employer. The maximum deduction for all items that are part of a uniform allowed by law is $50. If the employer provides the face covering and deducts the cost of the face covering from the worker’s wages, the employer must reimburse the worker the full amount deducted for the face covering when the worker’s employment ends and the worker returns the face covering to the employer.

If an employer chooses not to provide the face covering, workers are responsible for acquiring their own face covering and wearing it while at work to comply with the executive orders.

Appropriate attire requirements are developed and enforced by the business and, in some instances, by law. Employees should speak with their employer and review the employer’s COVID-19 preparedness plan as well as any employee handbook or applicable employer policy.

No, Executive Order 20-54 provides that an employer cannot discriminate or retaliate against a worker for wearing a face covering that the worker has personally acquired as long as the face covering does not violate industry standards or existing employer policies related to health, safety, or decency.

Executive Order 20-81 states that a business is in compliance with the Executive Order if:

  1. The businesses' workers are wearing face coverings as required by the Executive Order;
  2. The business has updated their COVID-19 Preparedness Plan to address the face covering requirements to align with the requirements of this Executive Order;
  3. The business has posted one or more signs visible to all workers, customers, and visitors instructing them to wear face coverings as required by the Executive Order – meaning when indoors (all people) and, outdoors (workers only) in situations where social distancing cannot be maintained; and
  4. The business makes reasonable efforts to enforce the face covering requirements with respect to customers and visitors.

The previous four sections discuss the steps businesses can take to ensure compliance with the Executive Order.

When assessing a situation involving potential violation of the Executive Order, a local law enforcement agency or state regulatory agency should consider the seriousness of any non-compliance. Factors relevant to the seriousness of the non-compliance include, but are not limited to: the number of workers and customers not wearing face covering as required by the Executive Order; how long and how often workers and customers are not wearing face coverings; the consequences of workers and customers not wearing face coverings, including indications the business is associated with the transmission of COVID-19; and the actions taken by the business to prevent and respond to their workers' and customers' non-compliance with face covering requirements.

The objective of any enforcement action will be to achieve compliance with the Executive Order to protect the health of Minnesotans.

Executive Order 20-81 provides a limited number of exemptions from the face covering requirements. One exemption included in EO 20-81 is:

“Individuals at their workplace when wearing a face covering would create a job hazard for the individual or others, as determined by local, state or federal regulators or workplace safety and health standards and guidelines.”

Whether wearing a face covering would create a job hazard to the wearer or others is going to depend on the circumstances and should be determined on a case-by-case basis. If a business identifies a specific health or safety concern about wearing a face covering, the business must then determine whether it is possible to eliminate or minimize this concern by modifying the job task, using a substitution (such as a face shield), or by putting in place engineering or administrative controls.

A business must exhaust all possible options for eliminating or minimizing health or safety concerns before allowing a worker to work without a face covering under conditions where doing so would create a hazard.

The following are examples of commonly raised concerns about wearing face coverings in the workplace and how they can be addressed:

  • Fogging of eye protection: Fogging of eye glasses, safety glasses, or other eye protection can often be eliminated by wearing face coverings that can be adjusted to fit snugly over the nose and across the cheekbones. Fogging of eye protection while wearing a face covering can also be eliminated by using eye protection that is not susceptible to fogging, including the use of face shields instead of face coverings or the use of micro-screen eye protection instead of lenses.
  • Discomfort while wearing in warm environments: A face covering alone does not cause a person to overheat and causes less risk of overheating than does wearing N95 masks. Before determining that wearing a face covering poses a job hazard due to the temperature of the work environment, the business must first determine whether the health or safety concerns associated with wearing a face covering in a warm environment can be addressed through other means, such as by keeping the work environment at a lower temperature, implementing engineering controls (e.g., improving ventilation and/or increasing air exchange), adopting administrative controls (e.g., scheduling additional cool-down breaks and ensuring proper hydration), or using equipment to help improve individual workers’ comfort (e.g., cooling vests). The business must also consider whether workers can use face coverings made out of material that is more comfortable to wear in warm environments and consider providing workers with more than one face covering so that they can be replaced during the work shift.
  • Entanglement or contamination: If wearing a face covering raises concerns about entanglement with equipment or machinery or contamination of face coverings by chemicals or dust, the business must work to eliminate the risk of entanglement or contamination rather than simply having workers remove their face coverings. Businesses may be able to eliminate risk of entanglement through engineering controls (e.g., proper machine guards) or work practices (e.g., choosing face coverings that do not have parts that can pulled into a machine, wearing a face shield over the face covering). Similarly, businesses may be able to eliminate risk of contamination through engineering controls or providing workers with additional face covering to change as needed.

If a business has exhausted all possible options for mitigating or eliminating a job hazard to the worker or others, a worker may remove their face covering, but only when performing the specific hazardous task or tasks.

Workers may temporarily remove a face covering under Executive Order 20-81 when they are alone. These conditions may include when a worker is alone in:

  • An office, room, or cubicle (see FAQ regarding cubicles).
  • A vehicle.
  • Inside the cab of heavy equipment or machinery.
  • An enclosed work area.

A worker is not alone when more than one person is present in the workspace or area, even if separated by a plexiglass barrier or by 6 feet or more of distance.

A worker may temporarily remove their face covering while working alone in a cubicle if:

  • The cubicle has four walls (one with an opening for an entryway) that are high enough to block the breathing zone, meaning they are above face level of the person working in the cubicle or any adjoining cubicle.
  • The work activity will not require anyone to enter the cubicle.
  • The worker is at least 6 feet from any other workers in adjoining cubicles.

If a cubicle does not meet these requirements, the worker may not remove their mask.

If the cubicle meets these requirements, the worker may temporarily remove their mask while seated in their cubicle. The worker must replace their face covering:

  • If a person approaches or enters the cubicle.
  • Before standing and leaving the cubicle.

A space is “indoors” if the space is:

  1. Between the ground or other natural surface or a floor or similar surface and a canopy, cap, awning, ceiling, roof or similar structure, and
  2. Bounded by a physical barrier, including but not limited to walls, partitions, retractable dividers, doorways, garage doors or windows, whether opened or closed, and other types of barriers, that cover more than 50% of the combined surface area of the vertical planes constituting the perimeter of the space.

Indoor spaces may be temporary or permanent, finished or unfinished. A 0.011 gauge window screen with an 18 by 16 mesh count is not a barrier. Examples of spaces that are or can be indoor spaces include, but are not limited to, buildings, towers, stadiums, arenas, theaters, rotundas, domes, tents, pavilions, gazebos, igloos, trailers, and other enclosures.

For example, the following spaces would be considered “indoors”:

Example 1: More than 50% of the vertical planes between the floor and ceiling are enclosed by solid material. This space is "indoors."

Example 1 is a space with ceiling, half walls on three sides, and full wall on one side.

Example 2: More than 50% of the perimeter space between the floor and ceiling is enclosed by solid material. This space is "indoors."

Example 2 is an igloo type space.

By contrast, the following spaces would be considered “outdoors” because less than 50% of the perimeter space between the floor and ceiling are enclosed by solid material:

Example 1: Less than 50% of the vertical planes between the floor and ceiling are enclosed by solid material. This space is "outdoors."

Example 1 is a space with ceiling, open wall on three sides, and full wall on one side.

Example 2: The space between the floor and ceiling has no walls. This space is "outdoors."

Example 2 is a space with only a ceiling

Yes, if the structure meets the definition of an indoor area, explained in the previous question.

Schools and child care settings

Face coverings are generally required for all students, staff, and other people present in any kindergarten through grade 12 school buildings or district offices or riding on school transportation vehicles. To provide a consistent, safe environment for students and staff, this requirement applies equally to kindergarteners, even those aged 5 or under. MDH and MDE also strongly recommend that all staff wear a face shield over their face coverings. For more information, including information about exemptions, situations where face shields can be worn as an alternative to a face covering, and situations where it is allowable to temporarily remove a face covering, please see Executive Orders from Governor Walz and 2020-2021 Planning Guide for Schools (PDF). As with other settings, children under 2 years or anyone with a medical, developmental, or behavioral condition that makes it unreasonable to wear a face covering must not wear face coverings.

Universal masking is challenging in child care settings – particularly those that serve young children – due to the importance of communication for child development. These settings also may be able to mitigate risks of transmission by grouping staff and children together in consistent “cohorts” that do not mix with others. Accordingly, Executive Order 20-81 grants flexibility to the following child care settings, as long as they serve children 5 and under: family and group day care homes (licensed under Minnesota Rules 2019, chapter 9502); child care centers (licensed under Minnesota Rules 2019, chapter 9503); certified centers (certified under Minnesota Statutes 2019, chapter 245H); legal non-licensed child care providers (defined under Minnesota Statutes 2019, section 119B, subdivision 16); certain license-exempt Head Start, public and private school programs (defined under Minnesota Statutes 2019, section 245A.03, subdivision 2 (a) (5), (13), and (26)); and other Head Start, preschool and pre-kindergarten programs.

In general, either a face covering or face shield is required for all staff in child care settings when in communal areas, hallways or lobbies. When isolated in a classroom or home care environment with one group or cohort, face coverings are strongly recommended, but not required. Children 5 years and under are exempt from the face covering requirement, and a child care setting that serves children under age 5 may choose to exempt older children by fulfilling specific requirements (i.e. written notice to all families and documentation in COVID-19 preparedness plans). For additional requirements, guidance, and information, please refer to the executive orders at Executive Orders from Governor Walz and MDH guidance on COVID-19 Prevention Guidance for Youth and Student Programs (PDF).

Concerns, questions, or complaints

If you are a business and need assistance in dealing with a noncompliant customer or visitor, you may wish to contact your local law enforcement agency for assistance if you are unable to obtain compliance through other means.

To report violations by businesses: contact local law enforcement or one of the agencies listed below, if applicable.

  • To ask questions or report violations of the executive orders as they relate to worker health and safety: Contact the Department of Labor and Industry by email at or by phone at 651-284-5050 or 1-877-470-6742.
  • To ask other workplace-related questions about the executive orders: Contact the Department of Employment and Economic Development using the form on the following web page: Questions about Returning to Work.
  • To report violations by restaurants and food service establishments, pools, or lodging services: Follow the instructions on the MDH Online Complaint Form. In some instances, you may need to contact a local public health agency to report your complaint. Refer to the “Before reporting a complaint” section on the above web page or to the Minnesota State and Local Food, Pools, and Lodging Contacts (PDF) to determine whether a local public health agency is the right contact for your area.
  • To report discrimination in relation to the executive orders: Contact the Minnesota Department of Human Rights at 1-833-454-0148 or submit a report at Report Discrimination Online.
  • For general questions about face covering requirements or COVID-19: Contact the Minnesota Department of Health by phone at 1-833-431-2053, or submit an inquiry using the Have a Question? We're here to help online form.


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  2. Cowling B.J., Zhou Y., Ip D.K.M., et al. Face Masks to Prevent Transmission of Influenza Virus: A Systematic Review. Epidemiol Infect 2010 Apr;138(4):449-56.
  3. Eikenberry S.E., Mancuso M., Iboi E., et al. To mask or not to mask: Modeling the potential for face mask use by the general public to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic. Infect Dis Model. 2020;5;293-308.
  4. Lyu W., Wehby G. Community Use of Face Masks and COVID-19: Evidence From A Natural Experiment Of State Mandates In The US. Health Affairs, published online June 16, 2020.
  5. Brooks, J.T., Butler J.C., Redfield R.R.. Universal Masking to Prevent SARS-CoV-2 Transmission – The Time is Now. JAMA, published online July 14, 2020. Doi:10.1001/jama.2020.13107.
  6. Goldman Sachs Research. Face Masks and GDP. 2020 June 29.

Updated Wednesday, 21-Apr-2021 17:11:34 CDT