COVID-19 | Aug. 18, 2021

Face Mask FAQs


Q. I’m fully vaccinated. When and where do I need to wear a mask? *updated 8/18/2021*
Consistent with CDC guidance in areas of high or substantial transmission, all personnel (Military, Civilian, Non-Appropriated Fund employees, and Auxiliary), on-site Contractors, and visitors must wear a mask inside USCG operated buildings, regardless of the ability to maintain social distancing and regardless of vaccination status.

On July 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance on Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People. Consistent with CDC guidance, in areas of high or substantial transmission (see the CDC COVID-19 Data Tracker County View), Federal employees, contractors, and visitors must wear a mask inside Federal buildings, except for the limited exceptions consistent with CDC guidelines, such as:

In areas of low or moderate transmission, in most settings, fully vaccinated people generally do not need to wear a mask or physically distance in Federal buildings or on Federal land, except where required by Federal, State, local, Tribal, or territorial laws, rules, or regulations. Fully vaccinated individuals might choose to wear a mask regardless of the level of transmission for a variety of reasons. Nothing in CDC guidance precludes an employee from wearing a mask, if the employee so chooses. CDC’s guidance for mask wearing and physical distancing in specific settings, including healthcare, transportation, correctional and detention facilities, and schools, should be followed, as applicable.


Q: I’m not vaccinated. When and where am I required to wear a face mask? *updated 8/18/2021*
A. Individuals who are not fully vaccinated must wear masks maintain distance and properly. Those who decline to provide information about their vaccination status—including employees, onsite contractors, and those visitors who are required to provide vaccination status— must wear masks properly and maintain distance, regardless of community transmission level.

All Coast Guard personnel must continue to comply with local, state, federal and CDC guidance regarding areas where masks should be worn.


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’ve received one dose of the vaccine but I am waiting for my second dose. Do I need to wear a mask? *Updated 08/06/2021*
Yes. Someone who is not fully vaccinated, including those that are not at least two weeks beyond their second dose is considered unvaccinated and must wear a mask regardless of community transmission level and maintain social distance.


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: 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.