On Tuesday, the CDC issued new guidance that wearing a mask helps protect both the wearer and those around them from COVID-19 transmission. The CDC's statement updates previous guidance suggesting the main benefit of mask wearing was to help prevent infected people from spreading the virus to others.
The CDC said in its new guidance that cloth masks act as "source control" to block virus particles exhaled by the wearer and provide "filtration for personal protection" by blocking incoming infectious droplets from others, "which is especially relevant for asymptomatic or presymptomatic infected wearers who feel well and may be unaware of their infectiousness to others, and who are estimated to account for more than 50% of transmissions."
The new guidance cites a number of studies showing that masks reduce the risk of transmitting or catching the virus by more than 70% in various instances. One study revealed mutual mask-use helped prevent two infected hair stylists from transmitting the virus to 67 clients who were later interviewed. Another followed infected people who spent more than 10 hours on flights without infecting other passengers when masks were used.
The CDC guidance concluded that, "[t]he relationship between source control and personal protection is likely complementary and possibly synergistic, so that individual benefit increases with increasing community mask use" and "[a]dopting universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns, especially if combined with social distancing, hand hygiene, and adequate ventilation."
With surges of COVID-19 in nearly all 50 states, this is a stark reminder to employers to stay up to date on state and local mask orders, remain vigilant in enforcing mask-wearing policies, and to review current COVID-19 practices for the workplace.  Employers should also ensure their front-line managers and Human Resources professionals are equipped to educate employees who refuse to comply with masking requirements on the benefits of mask-wearing for not only the health and safety of coworkers, but the employee's own health and safety. 
We have clients contemplating and some implementing discipline procedures for employees that refuse to wear masks. Clients are worried about a stubborn or irresponsible employee infecting others and forcing the closing of a site.
These are all difficult issues.
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