Tips for Using Face Covering and Gloves in the Transit Industry

This document includes recommendations and guidance on mask use for drivers and passengers during the COVID-19 national emergency.

What is a N95 mask?

Across the globe, N95 masks — considered the gold standard of respirator masks — are in short supply. These masks, which filter out at least 95% of very small particles from the air, are a crucial piece of equipment for doctors and nurses treating the tens of thousands of coronavirus-infected patients in the United States. N95 masks are tested and certified as respirators by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a research agency that is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How is a N95 mask different from a KN95 mask?

The N95 and KN95 are both respiratory protective face masks with filtration efficiency of at least 95%. They are almost identical in performance, with only very slight differences in their specifications. Like a variation in the maximum pressure the masks must be able to withstand as a person inhales and exhales.

Is it OK for transit workers to use KN95 masks?

Due to the shortage of the NIOSH-approved N95 masks, on April 3, 2020, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for KN95 masks (including those manufactured in China), which makes KN95 respirators eligible for authorization if certain criteria are met, including evidence demonstrating that the respirator meets certain standards.

To preserve the short supply of NIOSH-approved N95 masks for medical personnel, other essential workers who may be in close contact with the public (such as public transit workers) are being encouraged to utilize KN95 masks.

As long as a KN95 mask has met certain criteria and has documentation that it is authentic and not counterfeited, the FDA has stated that for the duration of the pandemic, when FDA-cleared or NIOSH-approved N95 respirators are not available, the use of KN95 respirators are acceptable.

Why do you need to wear a cloth face covering?

In light of new data about how COVID-19 spreads, along with evidence of widespread COVID-19 illness in communities across the country, the CDC recommends that people wear a cloth face covering to cover their nose and mouth in the community setting. This is to protect people around you if you are infected but do not have symptoms.

When do you need to wear a cloth face covering?

A cloth face covering should be worn whenever people are in a community setting, especially in situations where you may be near people. These settings include grocery stores and pharmacies. These face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing. Cloth face coverings are especially important to wear in public in areas of widespread COVID-19 illness.

CDC guidance on cloth face coverings:

The following links contain detailed information from the CDC on the use of cloth face coverings:

Do you still need to stay at least 6 feet away from people if wearing a cloth face covering?

Yes. Wearing cloth face coverings is an additional public health measure people should take to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The CDC still recommends that you stay at least 6 feet away from other people (social distancing), frequent hand cleaning and other everyday preventive actions. A cloth face covering is not intended to protect the wearer, but it may prevent the spread of virus from the wearer to others. This would be especially important if someone is infected but does not have symptoms. View CDC’s guidance on how to protect yourself.

What type of cloth face covering should be worn?

Cloth face coverings can be made from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost. See below for sample instructions.

How to Wear Cloth Face Coverings

Cloth face coverings should –

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be secured with ties or ear loops
  • include multiple layers of fabric
  • allow for breathing without restriction
  • be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

Improper fitting face covering

  • Make sure your nose is fully covered
  • Don’t push your mask under your chin to rest on your neck
  • Make sure your mask is tight to your face and does not have gaps on the sides

Who should NOT wear cloth face coverings?

Cloth face coverings should not be placed on children younger than 2 years of age, anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cover without assistance.

CDC on Homemade Cloth Face Coverings

The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

The CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure.

CDC’s video on making your own cloth mask can be viewed at

CDC’s written instructions for 3 different methods for making your own cloth mask:

The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance. The cloth face coverings recommended are also not KN95 masks.

Should cloth face coverings be washed or otherwise cleaned regularly? How regularly?

Yes. They should be routinely washed depending on the frequency of use.

How does one safely sterilize/clean a cloth face covering?

A washing machine should suffice in properly washing a cloth face covering.

How does one safely remove a used cloth face covering?

Individuals should be careful not to touch their eyes, nose, and mouth when removing their cloth face covering and wash hands immediately after removing.

Why is the CDC recommending cloth face coverings instead of N95 masks?

Surgical masks and N95 respirators are in short supply and should be reserved for healthcare workers or other medical first responders, as recommended by CDC guidance.

Although colloquially we may refer to them as masks, the N95 (and KN95) “masks” are actually respirators. The main difference between a “respirator” and a “mask” is that a mask (be it a cloth mask or even a surgical mask) is mainly meant to prevent airborne particles being expelled from the wearer, NOT to protect the wearer from breathing in airborne particles. A respirator, on the other hand, prevents airborne particles from being both expelled and inhaled by the user.

What is FTA’s position on the transit workforce having the necessary protections, including personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and required social distancing practices?

Under the CARES Act, $25 billion was allocated to transit (FTA Section 5307 and 5311) agencies across the country with no local match required.  These funds are available for transit agencies to provide PPE for transit workers.  Consistent with the CARES Act, FTA expects that agencies use available funding to purchase PPE for the transit workforce consistent with CDC and OSHA guidance to the maximum extent possible. 

In fact, FTA, in their frequently asked questions (FAQ) responses, clarified eligible expenses under the CARES Act, which include:      

  • Removal of health and safety hazards, such as cleaning of vehicles and facilities
  • Costs associated with shutting down or restarting service
  • Materials such as hand sanitizer, gloves, soap, and cleaners

See the Emergency Relief Manual (49 U.S.C. 5324). 

Many transit agencies around the nation are starting to order KN95 masks for their workforces. Please contact NHDOT if your agency is having trouble ordering masks.

Can a transit system require passengers to wear face coverings?

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) issued a Safety Advisory on April 14 that provides transit employees and passengers with recommended actions to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. FTA urges transit agencies to follow current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommendations for the spread of COVID-19, which include face coverings, social distancing, frequent hand washing, facility and vehicle cleaning, and other measures to the maximum extent practicable.  

“FTA is advising transit agencies to take action to reduce the likelihood that transit employees and members of the public contract or spread the virus that causes COVID-19, consistent with CDC and OSHA guidance,” said FTA Acting Administrator K. Jane Williams.

Much like implementing a seatbelt use safety policy, transit systems may implement a face mask use policy. The Safety Advisory recommends that transit agencies develop and implement procedures and practices consistent with all applicable guidance and information provided by the CDC and OSHA to ensure the continued safety of transit passengers and employees during this public health emergency.

While a transit system is not required to provide passengers with face masks, it allows individuals without a face mask to use the service.  The challenge however is establishing a risk-free environment to distribute the masks prior to the passenger boarding the vehicle.  There is no perfect method for distribution, however, some systems have implemented a method whereby an individual mask is placed in a zip lock bag and is placed on a board or on the entrance door of the vehicle for the passenger to take before boarding the vehicle.  Mask dispensers are also available for purchase online and the cost of the dispensers are eligible under the CARES Act.

Should transit staff wear disposable gloves?

While the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently advised that the public wear face coverings, it has not issued a similar recommendation about gloves.  Some front-line employees such as transit staff may benefit from using gloves at certain times, such as when cleaning and sanitizing the vehicle, providing direct assistance to passengers, and handling fares. Even in those instances, though, proper use is important. Drivers wearing gloves while handling cash fares and then directly touching the steering wheel, door controls, etc. is something that absolutely should not happen. However, some people may find that gloves truly do help them behave differently in a positive way, such as reminding them not to touch their face, in which case it’s not unreasonable for the driver to wear gloves, but they need to clean or replace the gloves as needed.  It is important to remember, the gloves themselves are not sanitizing. The most effective method of limiting the transmission of COVID-19 on your hands is frequent handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Proper disposal of face coverings and discarded items

The World Health Association (WHO) advises that disposable masks should not be reused. Transit systems should have covered receptacles lined with removable sealable bags near the exit for passengers to dispose of masks as they exit the vehicle.  

In a perfect world the transit system would not have to dispose of used passenger face masks and other discarded items, but we need to be prepared to do just that.  All vehicles should be equipped with containers that have a lid that closes and is lined with a removable sealable bag.  The transit staff should be equipped with a face mask and gloves prior to collecting any discarded masks, gloves, or other items left behind by passengers.  After collecting the discarded materials, transit staff should immediately place the items in the covered receptacle.  During the collection of discarded items, transit staff should be careful not to touch their face.  Upon completion of collection of discarded items, the transit staff person should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or clean hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

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