COVID-19 Team Update: Information on Vaccine Mandate and Masking Options

Banner showing COVID-19 virus

Update to the Vaccine Mandate:

Since the Smithsonian announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in November, more than 95% of our staff has complied. Thank you for your patience during this process, and your commitment to helping make the Smithsonian a safer place to work. Following a preliminary court ruling, the Federal government directed agencies to stop implementation or enforcement of the Federal Vaccine Mandate. The Smithsonian will do the same and is currently halting the enforcement of our vaccination mandate for all Federal and Trust employees and affiliated staff.

While we still strongly recommend all staff be vaccinated, as it is our best defense against COVID-19, at this time, no administrative actions will be taken against non-compliant employees as it relates to the vaccine mandate.  Additionally, the requests already received for accommodations based on religious or medical reasons are paused and not being processed at this time.

The COVID-19 Response Team still encourages you to submit your proof of vaccination if you have not already done so. This will help with contact tracing and other safety initiatives.

Although the vaccine mandate is suspended, safety remains Smithsonian’s top priority. Our other COVID-19 mitigation measures remain in place including practicing social distancing, staying home when sick, and wearing face coverings. Thank you for your diligence in following these important safety policies.

Additional Information on Masking Options:

Recently, the CDC updated their masking guidance to recommend wearing “the most protective mask you can, that fits well and that you will wear consistently.” In response to this, as announced last week, the Smithsonian is offering KN95 masks and NIOSH-approved N95 respirators to on-site staff in addition to cloth face coverings. The unit safety coordinators will place orders for these for their staff. Please see below to help you better understand the choices available to you.

On-site staff may choose to:

  • continue to wear their SI-provided multilayer cloth face coverings,
  • opt to wear an SI-provided KN95 mask in place of their cloth face covering,
  • or opt to voluntarily wear an SI-issued N95 respirator in place of their cloth face covering, after receiving the required voluntary-use respirator training via Teams from OSHEM EMD through their unit Safety Coordinator.
  • On-site staff may also wear multi-layer face coverings they purchased or have acquired for themselves outside of the Smithsonian, to include KN95 masks or N95 respirators. The use of personally-acquired N95s does not require voluntary-use training, but staff wearing these respirators may request the OSHEM-led training through their unit Safety Coordinator.

Staff should choose the best (and most protective) masking option that:

  • fits them snugly
  • they can wear comfortably
  • they will wear consistently (only remove to eat or drink)

Employees previously directed to use respiratory protection because of specific tasks (like animal care) and hazards (like asbestos) should continue to wear the respirator they were medically cleared, fitted, and trained with to safely perform these particular tasks. Specific questions about the use of respiratory protection should be directed to your unit Safety Coordinator.

Also, important to keep in mind, KN95 masks and N95 respirators are not reusable in the same way as cloth face coverings (which should be washed after each use). Both KN95s and N95s may be worn for up to 40 hours of use or until they become wet, soiled, or damaged. If the mask or respirator can be reused, store it in a paper bag. Dispose of KN95s or N95s in the regular waste bin. 

As a reminder, maintaining distance from others is our first line of defense. These face coverings, masks, or respirators are not substitutes for Smithsonian’s other safety protocols. Masking is an important part of protecting ourselves, but social distancing remains an essential part of reducing the spread of COVID-19. To support Smithsonian’s social distancing requirements, only staff directed to be on site should be on site. And as always, if you are sick, stay home.

Stay safe, be well, and get vaccinated,
COVID-19 Response Team

Posted: 27 January 2022
About the Author:

Alex di Giovanni is primarily responsible for "other duties as assigned" in the Office of Communications and External Affairs. She has been with the Smithsonian since 2006 and plans to be interred in the Smithson crypt.

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