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Guidance for Wearing Masks: Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19

CDC


What you need to know

  • When you wear a mask, you protect others as well as yourself. Masks work best when everyone wears one.

  • A mask is NOT a substitute for social distancing. Masks should still be worn in addition to staying at least 6 feet apart, especially when indoors around people who don’t live in your household.

  • Masks should completely cover the nose and mouth and fit snugly against the sides of face without gaps.

  • Masks should be worn any time you are traveling on a plane, bus, train, or other form of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.

  • People age 2 and older should wear masks in public settings and when around people who don’t live in their household.​

  • Wear a mask inside your home if someone you live with is sick with symptoms of COVID-19 or has tested positive for COVID-19.

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol after touching or removing your mask.

  • Masks may not be necessary when you are outside by yourself away from others, or with people who live in your household. However, some areas may have mask mandates while out in public, so please check the rules in your local area (such as in your city, county, or state). Additionally, check whether any federal mask mandates apply to where you will be going.

  • CDC continues to study the effectiveness of different types of masks and update our recommendations as new scientific evidence becomes available. The most recent scientific brief is available here: Scientific Brief: Community Use of Cloth Masks to Control the Spread of SARS-CoV-2 | CDC

  • CDC recently conducted a study in a laboratory that tested the performance of different mask combinations.

  • There are several easy methods to improve the performance of your mask. Visit CDC’s Improve the Fit and Filtration of Your Mask to Reduce the Spread of COVID-19 webpage to learn more.


Evidence for Effectiveness of Masks

Your mask helps protect those around you

COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets. Respiratory droplets travel into the air when you cough, sneeze, talk, shout, or sing. These droplets can then land in the mouths or noses of people who are near you or they may breathe these droplets in.

Masks are a simple barrier to help prevent your respiratory droplets from reaching others. Studies show that masks reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth.

You should wear a mask, even if you do not feel sick. This is because several studies have found that people with COVID-19 who never develop symptoms (asymptomatic) and those who are not yet showing symptoms (pre-symptomatic) can still spread the virus to other people. Wearing a mask helps protect those around you, in case you are infected but not showing symptoms.

It is especially important to wear a mask when you are indoors with people you do not live with and when you are unable to stay at least 6 feet apart since COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact with one another.

Your mask offers some protection to you

A cloth mask also offers some protection to you too. How well it protects you from breathing in the virus likely depends on the fabrics used and how your mask is made (such as the type of fabric, the number of layers of fabric, and how well the mask fits). CDC is currently studying these factors.



Who should or should not wear a mask

Masks should be worn:

  • By people 2 years of age and older

  • Any time you are in a public setting

  • Any time you are traveling on a plane, bus, train, or other form of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations

  • When you are around people who do not live with you, including inside your home or inside someone else’s home

  • Inside your home if someone you live with is sick with symptoms of COVID-19 or has tested positive for COVID-19

CDC recognizes there are specific instances when wearing a mask may not be feasible. In these instances, consider adaptations and alternatives.

The following categories of people are exempt from the requirement to wear a mask:

  • A child under the age of 2 years;

  • A person with a disability who cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask, for reasons related to the disability;

  • A person for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health, safety, or job duty as determined by the workplace risk assessmentexternal icon.

Types of masks

Some masks work better than others to help slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Note: N95 respirators approved by CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) should be prioritized for healthcare personnel.


Cloth masks

More effective fabrics for cloth masks are

  • Tightly woven fabrics, such as cotton and cotton blends

  • Breathable

  • Two or three fabric layers

Less effective fabrics for cloth masks are

  • Loosely woven fabrics, such as loose knit fabrics

  • Single layer

CDC is currently studying the effectiveness of various cloth mask materials. Refer to our Scientific Brief: Community Use of Cloth Masks to Control the Spread of SARS-CoV-2 | CDC for more information.


Medical procedure masks (sometimes referred to as Surgical Masks or Disposable Face Masks) Medical procedure masks are single-use masks that are not made of cloth and are not designed to be washed or laundered. They are sold online and through large retail stores. These are not the same as other medical masks. You may prefer using medical procedure masks in situations where your mask is likely to get wet or dirty. As with cloth masks, make sure your medical procedure mask fits close to your face without large side gaps and completely covers your nose and mouth. Bring extra medical procedure masks with you in case you need to change out a dirty or wet mask.

Masks with exhalation valves or vents CDC does not recommend using masks with exhalation valves or vents. The hole in the material may allow your respiratory droplets to escape and reach others. Research on the effectiveness of these types of masks is ongoing.

NIOSH-approved N95 respirators N95 respirators are critical supplies that should be prioritized for healthcare workers and other medical first responders to prevent supply shortages.

Clear masks or cloth masks with a clear plastic panel Clear masks or cloth masks with a clear plastic panel are an alternative type of mask for people who interact with

  • People who are deaf or hard of hearing

  • Young children or students learning to read

  • Students learning a new language

  • People with disabilities

  • People who need to see the proper shape of the mouth for making appropriate vowel sounds (for example, when singing)

Top of Page If you use this type of mask, make sure

  • You can breathe easily

  • Excess moisture does not collect on the inside of the mask

  • You remove the mask before sleeping, since the plastic part could form a seal around your mouth and nose and make it hard to breathe

The FDA recently approved a transparent pdf icon[186 KB, 3 Pages]external icon medical mask. These transparent medical masks should be reserved for use by healthcare workers and patients who require them. There are several easy methods to improve the performance of your mask. Visit CDC’s Improve the Fit and Filtration of Your Mask to Reduce the Spread of COVID-19 webpage to learn more. You can also learn more by reading about a CDC study conducted in a laboratory that tested the performance of different mask combinations. Top of Page

Other Types of Face Protection CDC does not recommendexternal icon using face shields or goggles as a substitute for masks. Goggles or other eye protection may be used in addition to a mask. Do NOT put a plastic face shield (or a mask) on newborns or infants. Face shields and goggles are primarily used to protect the eyes of the person wearing it. Goggles do not cover the nose and mouth. Face shields are not as effective at protecting you or the people around you from respiratory droplets. Face shields have large gaps below and alongside the face, where your respiratory droplets may escape and reach others around you and will not protect you from respiratory droplets from others. However, wearing a mask may not be feasible in every situation for some people.

Top of Page Face shields and goggles For example, people who interact with those who are deaf or hearing impaired may find that a face shield is better than a mask when communicating. If you must wear a face shield instead of a mask:

  • Choose a face shield that wraps around the sides of your face and extends below your chin or a hooded face shield. This is based on the limited available data that suggest these types of face shields are better at preventing spray of respiratory droplets.

  • Wash your hands after removing the face shield. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth when removing it.

  • Clean and disinfect reusable face shields according to the manufactur