Issued 4/7/2020

4/24/2020 Revised with Surgical-style mask information

5/4/2020 Revised with one-way exhalation valve information

5/26/20 Revised with private office/cubicle information

8/4/20 Revised with Penn-Provided cotton mask

8/26/20 Storage guidance removed

11/12/20 Masks may also protect you!

CDC recommends that the general public wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain.  

In response to this CDC guidance and consistent with the announcement from Provost Wendell Pritchett everyone entering Penn buildings, regardless of their role, must follow Universal Mask precautions beginning April 13, 2020.  Unlike the CDC guidance for the general public, which recommends cloth face coverings, Penn personnel will be provided a variety of different styles of face masks, including cloth face coverings and surgical-style masks depending on mask availability in their organization.  Any style of face mask provided by the University will meet the CDC’s performance requirements.

Universal Masks

  • Surgical-Style masks are constructed in a similar manner as surgical masks but are not manufactured for clinical use or carry FDA approval.  These masks are non-sterile and should be the first choice for compliance with Penn's Universal Mask precautions.
  • A Penn approved cloth face covering, may also be worn in the lab if surgical style masks are not available.  
  • Masks and face coverings are intended to limit the risk of the wearer exposing a coworker to undetected illnesses or infections, including COVID-19.  Masks are primarily intended to reduce the emission of virus-laden droplets but also help reduce inhalation of these droplets by the wearer.
  • Universal masks should be worn at all times by essential Penn personnel and should cover your nose and mouth.
  • Universal masks should be removed only for eating or if working in a private office or cubicle whose sides extend above the head of the occupant .  See Removal/Storage below.
  • Physical distancing must be maintained even while wearing the mask. 
  • All respirators with exhalation valves, including N95 respirators, do not meet the requirements of Penn’s Universal Mask Policy, because the exhalation valve allows unfiltered exhaled air to be released.

Temporarily Removing Universal Masks

  • Masks and face coverings should only be temporarily removed when eating or in a private office or cubicle whose sides extend above the head of the occupant. Physical distancing must be maintained.
  • Any time a mask is removed, it must be stored in a storage bag.
  • Do NOT place masks on counters, computers, etc.
  • Avoid touching the outer surface while removing the mask.
  • Perform hand hygiene (wash with soap and water or use hand sanitizer) after handling mask.


  • You should reuse your surgical-style mask until it becomes torn, visibly soiled or hard to breathe through.
  • Cloth masks provided by your supervisor should be laundered daily at home using household supplies.

Face Covering or N95 with one-way exhalation valves are not acceptable

Exhalation valve examples