Not Everyone Needs to Wear a Face Covering. But Why? 

The King County face covering directive strongly urges people to wear face coverings when in any indoor or outdoor public space within 6 feet of someone who does not live with you.  Because COVID-19 can spread before someone develops symptoms, we can protect one another by wearing a face covering. 

However, there are some people who are unable to wear face coverings for good reasons, including people with disabilities, children, and those with specific health or safety concerns. That’s why not everyone needs to wear a face covering. 

“We do not require 100% compliance. If 80% of people comply and wear coverings, we can better achieve community protection together. That leaves room for those who cannot safely and effectively wear face coverings and we still can all benefit.”

Jeffrey Duchin, Health Officer, Public Health- Seattle & King County. 

In addition to face coverings, the most important things that we can do to protect our health and that of others are: 

  • Maintain six feet of distance from others  
  • Stay home when ill 
  • Practice frequent hand washing and respiratory etiquette 
  • Disinfect surfaces often 

These all work together to slow the spread of COVID especially when the majority of people participate. 

Everyone who can wear a face covering should so that we can still get the most possible community protection.  

Who Does Not Need to Wear a Face Covering?

Some people do not need to follow this directive, including*: 

Children ages 2 years and younger  

The CDC is clear that babies and toddlers under age two should never wear cloth face coverings. A face covering on an infant may increase the risk of suffocation—if the baby doesn’t immediately remove the covering! 

Children ages 2-12 years 

Update: Beginning Friday, June 26, Washington State will require face coverings including children ages 6 and over and strongly encouraged for ages 3-5.

Children in this age group should only wear a face covering if a parent or caregiver supervises to make sure it’s worn safely. 

It is better that a child go without a face covering than to have them wear one improperly.  

“Wearing a face covering properly is hard for all of us and can be especially challenging for young children. If a face covering is not worn properly or if it causes more face touching, the effort provides no benefits. If a child cannot tolerate wearing a face covering, or cannot consistently wear it properly, it is best to focus on the three primary ways to prevent infection spread: frequent hand washing, staying 6 feet away from others and isolating at home when sick.”

Dr. Margaret Cary, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Children, Department of Community and Human Services 

Kids can participate in the most effective efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Wearing a face mask is an additional effort. Parents and caregivers—you know your kids best. If they can wear a face covering properly with a little practice and assistance, please do encourage it. Otherwise, please model wearing a face covering for your children but you don’t need to make the kids wear face coverings.

Anyone with a disability that makes it hard for them to wear or remove a face covering 

People with disabilities experience additional COVID-19 challenges including lack of accessible information and lack of ability to follow safety guidelines, such as wearing a face covering. 

“Wearing facemasks is important; if you can you should. It is also important to understand that some people cannot wear face masks for health, sensory, or communication reasons. If you meet someone one without a facemask please give them grace.  It is not always obvious who has a disability.”

Robin Tatsuda—Executive Director, the ARC of King County 

Anyone who is deaf or hard of hearing and relies on facial cues to communicate 

Deaf and hard of hearing individuals are encouraged to wear face coverings in most instances. Certain scenarios present unique communication challenges for deaf and hard of hearing community members who rely on lip reading and facial cues. For that reason, they are not required to comply with the face covering directive.  

However, in order to protect one another, wearing a face covering is ideal—though not required—in public settings like grocery stores; if someone who is deaf or hard of hearing opts to wear a face covering, other communication tactics may help, including a communication card, typing in a phone, or a pen and paper.  

When deaf and hard of hearing people are communicating with one another and need to see each other’s facial cues (an essential part of American Sign Language), they could wear clear face shields. Face shields are not a substitute for face coverings because they could allow infectious droplets to escape from the bottom and sides of shield. In other words, face shields offer protection to the wearer but don’t fully protect others. But if both people wear face shields, it offers protection to both individuals while allowing them to see facial cues. 

Anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, or unable to remove the face covering without help 

Anyone who has been advised by a medical professional to not wear a face covering because of personal health issues 

There may be unique circumstances and it is best to follow your doctor’s instructions. 

Be Compassionate About Face Coverings 

It’s ok to not wear a face covering if you physically can’t. In most interactions, if you see someone without a face covering, please extend the benefit of the doubt and respect others’ decisions. No one should be subjected to stigmatization, bias or discrimination for wearing or not wearing a face covering. Default to understanding rather than judgement.  

*How the List for Exemptions was Developed 

King County took into consideration the following:  

  • Specific feedback solicited from calls and meetings with community leaders 
  • CDC and WHO guidance 
  • Research and modeling after other existing face covering directives and orders from across the country 

We aim to provide basic guidance that empowers people to make the smartest choices for themselves and others in order to protect the health and safety of our community.