When masks are good
Masks are good to wear as protection against getting or spreading Covid whenever:
- Community spread is high, like during surges
- You, or someone you live with or spend time with, is at risk of severe illness or death
- You feel at risk
Masks help stop the spread of the virus. They protect individuals, the medically vulnerable, and those unable to get vaccinated, like young children.
Wearing a well-fitted mask, getting vaccinated, and avoiding crowded indoors spaces can help prevent people from getting very sick or dying. These tools can also lower the risk of long Covid.
They are the safest choice in indoor public settings and in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces.
People may choose to wear masks, even when they are not required. Respect the choices others make for their health.
When you must wear a mask
No matter your vaccine status, you must wear a mask when you are:
- Seeking healthcare (including any waiting rooms)
- At long-term care facilities and adult and senior care centers
- Inside homeless shelters, cooling and heating centers, and emergency shelters
- Inside a jail
- Inside all Department of Public Health buildings
You must also wear a mask wherever a business, venue operator, host, or transportation organization chooses to require everyone to wear masks. Always bring a mask with you in case you need it.
Strongly recommended on transportation
Masks are strongly recommended when you are:
- On public transportation (or waiting for it indoors)
- Driving or riding in a taxi or rideshare vehicle (even by yourself)
A transportation organization may choose to want more protection and require everyone to wear masks. You must follow the organization's masking requirements.
Feeling sick, tested positive, or had a close contact
- Are feeling sick and may have Covid
- Have tested positive
- Had a close contact with someone who has Covid
Children and masks
Children under 2 years old must not wear masks. They might suffocate.
Masks are not required at in-person school, youth programs, and childcare programs unless a school or program chooses to require them. Check with your school or program to see if you need to wear a mask.
Who does not have to wear masks
You do not have to wear a mask when it is required if:
- You have a physical, intellectual, or developmental disability that keeps you from wearing a mask.
- You have a letter from a medical professional saying you do not need to wear one because of your condition. The document does not need to explain your medical condition. The documentation should include the contact and license information of the medical professional.
- You will create a safety hazard at work (under established health and safety guidelines) by wearing anything on your face while at work.
- You have trouble breathing or are not able to take off your mask without help.
- You’re deaf and use facial and mouth movements as part of communication. You should remove your mask while communicating.
Wear masks that fit well and filter out the virus
To work, masks must fit well over your nose and mouth.
Wear masks with good filtration. They block virus particles from going through the mask itself.
Here are types of masks from the most to least effective material:
- N95, KN95, and KF94 respirators
- Well-fitting medical masks
- Cloth masks
N95 and similar respirators are made with the most effective material, cloth masks the least. Double masking can help as well.
N95, KN95 and KF94 masks
N95, KN95, and KN94 masks filter COVID-19 particles better than other masks.
As long as they fit you well, they offer extra protection.
N95 masks meet U.S. standards. KN95 and KF94 masks meet international standards.
Medical masks are surgical or disposable face masks made of the right material. However, they are often loose fitting.
Look for masks that have:
- 3 layers
- An adjustable nose wire
- Ties instead of ear loops as they may improve the fit
- Passed ASTM F2100 or ASTM F2100 level 2
ASTM stands for the American Society for Testing and Materials. An ASTM F2100 mask is a good minimum. A mask that has passed ASTM F200 level 2 is made of material that is better at filtering out the virus.
You can improve the fit of medical masks in different ways such as using a mask fitter or brace.
Double masking is an effective way to improve filtration and fit.
First put on a medical mask because the material is better at blocking virus particles. Then wear a close-fitting cloth mask on top of it to improve the seal of the mask to your face.
Cloth masks alone are not as effective as N95 respirators, well-fitting medical masks, or double-masking.
To work better, cloth masks should have:
- Two layers of tightly woven cotton with a third layer of non-woven fabric. The third layer could be a mask filter insert, or a synthetic fabric such as polypropylene
- Nose wires to reduce gaps around the nose
- Adjustable ear loops or straps that go around the head to reduce gaps around the face
A cloth mask made of one layer is not as effective as the recommended alternatives.
When to wear a more effective mask
It is better to wear an N95, KN95, KF94, double mask, or fitted medical mask when you are:
- With people at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19
- Taking care of or living with people who have or been exposed to COVID-19
- Indoors with unvaccinated people or where you don’t know if they are vaccinated
- Indoors with poor ventilation
- In crowded places where you cannot distance from other people
What not to use for Covid protection
Don’t use a mask or face covering with holes, including:
- Halloween or plastic masks
- Ski masks with holes for the nose or mouth
- Masks that have a one-way valve designed for easier breathing (often a raised plastic disk about the size of a quarter, on the front or side of the mask)
Holes or one-way valves allow droplets out of the mask, exposing people nearby. If you wear one, you should wear another face covering on top that doesn’t have valves.
Keep it clean
If you’re outside your home and your face covering gets wet, have another face covering ready to replace it.
Wash your reusable face coverings frequently, ideally after each use. Wash in the warmest water possible, dry on the highest heat, and leave in the dryer until completely dry.
Clean your hands before and after touching your face, mask, or face covering.