Masks and face coverings for the coronavirus pandemic

Wear something to cover your nose and mouth when you leave your home.

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Face coverings protect our entire community from COVID-19

Staying home is still the best way to not get yourself or others sick. Staying home is also the best way to stay healthy when the air quality is poor. 

If you do go out, stay 6 feet apart and wear a mask to cover your mouth and nose. Make sure it fits snugly around your face.

We require face coverings in many situations. Coronavirus can be spread before you feel sick, when you talk, cough, sneeze, or even breathe. 

Wearing a face covering reduces your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19. If we all wear face coverings, we protect everyone from getting COVID-19. 

The best mask is one you wear consistently and correctly

When to double mask

Double masking is not always better than single masking, especially if you have a very high quality, effective single mask or N95 respirator. 

Double masking might be more protective than single masking, if:

  • The top mask helps the bottom mask fit more tightly on your face
  • You use 2 masks made from different materials (one mask may capture particles the other doesn’t)

Read more about double-masking at

When to wear an N-95

Properly fitted N95 masks offer additional protection from the COVID-19 virus. It can filter particles better than other masks. 

But to keep you from getting COVID-19, the N-95 must fit tightly around your face. It will be harder to breathe in it. It’s also not designed for children. 

If you feel worse wearing an N95 mask, do not wear one.

Consider wearing an N-95 when when you are:

Read more about N95 use at

When you must wear a face covering

You must wear a face covering when you are within 6 feet of people who don’t live with you. You will not be allowed to go into a business or public transportation if you are not wearing a face covering.

Keep your face covering on at all times, except when eating and drinking.

At businesses

Face coverings are required when you are:

  • Waiting to be seated at an outdoor dining area
  • Seated at an outdoor dining area and whenever you leave your table, including when staff approach you (you can take off your mask when actively eating and drinking)
  • Waiting in line to go inside a store
  • Shopping at a store
  • Working out at a gym
  • Seeking healthcare (including any waiting rooms)
  • Going into buildings allowed to stay open, like laundromats, banks, and government buildings


Face coverings are required when you are:

  • On public transportation (or waiting for it)
  • Driving or riding in a taxi or rideshare vehicle (even by yourself)

At work

Face coverings are required when you are:

  • Working a job where you interact with others
  • Working in a space other people might use later, even if you’re alone (including cubicles, shared desks, and conference rooms)
  • Working in an area with shared equipment
  • Handling, preparing, or packaging food or other items for anyone you do not live with
  • Going into someone else’s home for work or any other reason

In spaces someone might be in later

Face coverings are required when you are in a common area inside a building, even if you’re alone. This includes:

  • Elevators
  • Hallways
  • Stairways
  • Break rooms
  • Parking lots

Passing someone outside

You must have a face covering on when you pass someone while walking or running outside. 

Give yourself enough time to put on a face covering, like when you see someone 30 feet away (about the length of a Muni bus).

When a face covering is not needed

Face coverings are not required when:

  • At home alone or with people you live with (consider wearing a mask if you are around someone at higher risk for getting COVID-19)
  • Working alone in your own private office with the door closed (as long as you can put on a face covering quickly if someone enters)
  • In your car alone or if you’re only with people you live with
  • Sitting or standing outside alone or with people you live with (such as picnicking outside) and you are more than 6 feet from others 
  • When eating or drinking alone or with people you live with, and nobody else is within 6 feet
  • Exercising outdoors alone or with people who live with you (walking, hiking, bicycling, or running) and no one else is within 6 feet

You should still have a face covering with you. It should be visible and readily accessible when you’re exercising, like hanging around your neck. There might be times where you cannot avoid being around other people. 

You should put on your face covering if you see someone within 30 feet of you (about the length of a Muni bus). That way, both of you will have enough time to put on your face coverings if you get close to each other.

Avoid eating indoors at work, if you can.

At home

You are not required to use a face covering at home.  But if you or someone at home is sick, use a face covering to reduce exposure. If you live with someone at higher risk from COVID-19, everyone at home should wear a face covering when around others, if possible.

Call your healthcare provider if you or someone in your home is sick. See more information about getting healthcare during the pandemic.

Certain groups are not required to wear a face covering, but should use other options


Children under 2 years old must not wear face coverings. They may suffocate.

Children 2 to 9 years old must wear face coverings if they can. They can wear alternative face coverings (like bandanas or face shields with a drape on the bottom edge) if they will be more likely to wear them. They should not be refused any essential service if they can’t wear face coverings, but you should encourage them to wear them or consider not taking them out where there are other people.  You must watch them to make sure they are using them correctly and safely.

Children over 10 must wear face coverings, like adults do.

Health and safety reasons

If you have a physical, intellectual, or developmental disability that prevents you from wearing a face covering, you do not have to wear one.

If you are Deaf and use facial and mouth movements as part of communication, you can remove your mask while communicating.

Anyone who has trouble breathing, or is not able to take off a face covering without help, should not wear one. You do not have to wear a face covering if you have a letter from a medical professional saying you do not need to wear one because of your condition.

If you can’t wear a medical or fabric mask, use other options

You are still required to wear something over your nose and mouth to block droplets. You can use a:

  • Gaiter with 2 layers
  • Face shield with drapes on the bottom edge

If you will create a safety hazard at work (under established health and safety guidelines) by wearing anything on your face, you do not have to wear one. 

If you have signed documentation showing a medical professional has told you not to wear a face covering of any kind, you do not have to wear one. The document does not need to explain your medical condition. The documentation should include the contact and license information of the medical professional.

What not to use

A face covering can be made of cloth, fabric, or other breathable material, but it should not have holes. 

The following do not comply with the order:

  • 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.

Masks for COVID-19 safety when the air quality is poor

Tighter face coverings filter out air particles better than gaiters or face shields.

If you have an N-95 with a valve, you can wear it to protect yourself against smoke. Wear another face covering on top to protect others.

Keep it clean

If you’re outside your home and your face covering gets wet, have another face covering ready to replace it.

Face coverings should be washed frequently. Ideally, wash them after each use in the warmest water possible and dry on the highest heat setting and leave in the dryer until completely dry.

Clean your hands before and after touching your face, or face coverings.

The CDC has instructions on how to wear and clean your face covering

Donating face coverings and masks

Donate face coverings and medical supplies at Give2SF. You can also make a tax-deductible contribution towards the City’s coronavirus response. 

We can also accept medical supplies for healthcare workers and first responders. We are currently only accepting donations in specific quantities and criteria.

Businesses must require face coverings

Business must require that staff and customers wear face coverings onsite. If a customer cannot wear a face covering, you can encourage outdoor transactions or interact with them from more than 6 feet away. See details about operating a business during the pandemic.

Businesses must also provide their staff with face coverings, but they have the option to wear their own. See shops that are selling PPE.

Masks to protect against wildfire smoke

See frequently asked questions on protecting yourself from wildfire smoke during the COVID-19 pandemic in English中文Español, and Filipino.

More information

Last updated February 18, 2021