COVID-19 | May 20, 2021

Face Mask FAQs

 

Q: Does making unvaccinated personnel wear a mask violate HIPAA?
A: HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and its Privacy Rule have provisions to restrict a “covered entity” (such as an insurer or healthcare provider) from sharing a person’s protected health information without the person’s knowledge or consent, or pursuant to one of the law’s enumerated exceptions. While the CG’s organic healthcare practice is a covered entity and must abide by HIPAA when it comes to the handling of medical records, the rest of the CG is not. HIPAA does not regulate what questions can be asked of a person.

The mask itself is not protected health information nor does HIPAA apply to them. The main way to know whether someone is vaccinated or not is by asking them.

Anyone could ask a person if they’re vaccinated and the person is free to disclose or withhold that information. This is not unlike schools requesting vaccination status information for enrollment at all levels. It is a common misconception that employers or businesses are not allowed to inquire about an individual’s vaccination status. Most often cited is that this is a violation of HIPAA, which is untrue. You have no rights that prevent you from being asked a question about your vaccination status. 

Often, the misunderstanding regarding masks and vaccines comes with a concern about discrimination. In December 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces federal workplace anti-discrimination laws, put out guidance explaining that the employer asking this question, or requiring proof of vaccination, does not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), as long as employers are careful about what vaccination-related question are asked. A possible violation might be if an employer’s questioning attempted might elicit information about a specific disability, such as when asking why a worker didn’t get vaccinated.

Because the intent is to increase the safety of the environment or event, employers should be comfortable asking employees or others sharing a work or recreation space, about their vaccination status. Those who refuse to answer will be treated as though they are unvaccinated. In some cases, businesses may be governed by newly passed state laws regarding inquiry of COVID vaccination status.  But this is not a HIPAA provision.

Information on whether military personnel have been vaccinated is available in Coast Guard Business Intelligence (CGBI) in the same tab as the annual influenza vaccination status.

 

Q: If I continue to wear a mask, can I wear any type of face mask I choose?
A. No, the Coast Guard does not authorize face masks with exhalation valves/vents or single layer neck gaiters for safety reasons and all face masks must be of neutral colors.

 

Q. I’m fully vaccinated. When and where do I need to wear a mask?
A
. In response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated recommendations, and subject to any applicable labor relations obligations, fully vaccinated Military, Civilian, Contractor, Non-Appropriated Fund employees, Auxiliary, and visitors who are at least two weeks beyond their final dose are no longer required to wear a mask indoors or outdoors at Coast Guard facilities.

All Coast Guard personnel should continue to comply with CDC guidance regarding areas where masks should be worn, including within airports and health care settings. This update does not release members from local, state and federal mask requirements outside of Coast Guard installations, vessels, and aircraft.

 

Q. I’ve received one dose of the vaccine but I am waiting for my second dose. Do I need to wear a mask?

A. Personnel who are not fully vaccinated (those that are not at least two weeks beyond their final dose), should continue to wear masks onboard Coast Guard facilities. The Coast Guard will review and revise all applicable health protection guidance to address the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

 

Q. Will I still need to wear masks and practice physical distancing once I’m fully vaccinated?

A. No. Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) latest recommendations, fully vaccinated people can safely participate in most activities, indoor or outdoor, without wearing a mask or social distancing. In accordance with the ALCOAST 185/21, fully vaccinated Military, Civilian, Contractor, Non-Appropriated Fund employees, Auxiliary, and visitors who are at least two weeks beyond their final dose are no longer required to wear a mask indoors or outdoors at Coast Guard facilities.

All Coast Guard personnel should continue to comply with CDC guidance regarding areas where masks should be worn, including within airports and health care settings. This update does not release members from local, state and federal mask requirements outside of Coast Guard installations, vessels, and aircraft.

 

Q: What type of material should I use for a cloth face masks?
A: The CDC recommends using two pieces of cotton, roughly the thickness of an average tee shirt, for making your own DIY cloth face covering. Your old tee shirts can be used for this purpose. Your District Safety and Environmental Health Officer or clinic medical provider can help address any specific questions you might have based on your family’s needs.

 

Q: Are my old Coast Guard ODUs and blue tee shirts safe to use as cloth face masks?
A: Yes, the Coast Guard ODUs are an option to construct a face covering. DoD BDUs are not. If you do use Coast Guard ODU material, be aware of airflow concerns.

 

Q: Can I wear any type of face mask I choose?
A: No, the Coast Guard does not authorize face masks with exhalation valves/vents or single layer neck gaiters for safety reasons and all face masks must be of neutral colors.

 

Q: When and where am I required to wear a face mask?
A: Per Coast Guard policy, all people in federal buildings or on federal lands are required to wear face masks, consistent with CDC guidelines.  Additionally, all on-duty or on-site federal employees and contractors are required to wear face masks.  Per CDC Order effective Feb. 1, 2021, all Coast Guard personnel - active duty, reserve, and civilians (both GS and NAF) - are required to wear face masks when traveling on any form of public transportation.

 

Q: Should I wear an N95 respirator at work? 
A: An N95 respirator should not take the place of a cloth or disposable face mask.  An N95 respirator is considered personal protective equipment (PPE) and should be reserved for those who require it (health-care workers, high-risk individuals, etc).  The exception to this is all Coast Guard members traveling in support of FORCECOM training are required to wear a properly fit-tested N95 respirator in accordance with their travel orders.