Wearing a mask or face covering is an additional measure we can take to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep each other safe. Masks are meant to act in partnership with other infection control practices, including social distancing and frequent hand washing, to break the chain of virus transmission and stop the spread of COVID-19.
Current evidence on community mask wearing
There is increasing scientific evidence of the effectiveness of masks to prevent community transmission leading to provincial, national and international public health organizations recommending the wearing of masks when physical distancing cannot be assured.
Evidence shows that mask use supported by social norms and government policies is associated with less mortality from COVID-19.
- Wearing a mask helps to reduce the spread of COVID-19
- Benefits are increased when masks are worn properly (securely cover the nose, mouth and chin without gapping)
- Mask use should be combined with other protective measures, such as physical distancing, hand washing, not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands, and staying home if you are sick
When worn properly, a person wearing a non-medical mask or face covering can reduce the spread of his or her own infectious respiratory droplets.
For more information on the role of masks in prevention of COVID-19, please visit:
- Public Health Ontario: COVID-19 – What We Know So Far About…Wearing Masks in Public
- Ontario Ministry of Health: Face coverings and face masks
- Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC): Preventing coronavirus
- World Health Organization (WHO): Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Considerations for Wearing Cloth Face Coverings
Wearing a mask alone will not prevent the spread of COVID-19. You must consistently and strictly adhere to good hygiene and public health measures, including frequent hand washing and physical (social) distancing.
What kind of mask should I wear?
The general public should wear non-medical (cloth) masks or face coverings when going to public places, and when entering enclosed public settings.
Non-medical masks or face coverings can be made with household items or purchased materials. It is important to use and clean a mask properly. Using a mask incorrectly can accidentally spread infection to the wearer.
The general public should not use N95 and surgical masks as they are in limited supply, and are urgently needed for healthcare workers.
What makes a good mask?
Non-medical face masks or face coverings should:
- allow for easy breathing
- fit securely to the head with ties or ear loops
- maintain their shape after washing and drying
- be changed as soon as possible if damp or dirty
- be comfortable and not require frequent adjustment
- be made of at least 2 layers of tightly woven material fabric (such as cotton or linen)
- be large enough to completely and comfortably cover the nose and mouth without gaping
Some masks also include a pocket to accommodate a paper towel or disposable coffee filter, for increased benefit.
Non-medical masks or face coverings should:
- not be shared with others
- not impair vision or interfere with tasks
- not be placed on children under the age of 2 years
- not be made of plastic or other non-breathable materials
- not be secured with tape or other inappropriate materials
- not be made exclusively of materials that easily fall apart, such as tissues
- not be placed on anyone unable to remove them without assistance or anyone who has trouble breathing
- not be placed on anyone with an underlying health condition
Homemade masks are not medical devices and are not regulated like medical masks and respirators:
- they have not been tested to recognized standards
- the fabrics are not the same as used in surgical masks or respirators
- the edges are not designed to form a seal around the nose and mouth
These types of masks may not be effective in blocking virus particles that may be transmitted by coughing, sneezing or certain medical procedures. They do not provide complete protection from virus particles because of a potential loose fit and the materials used.
Some commercially available masks have exhalation valves that make the mask more breathable for the person wearing it, but these valves also allow infectious respiratory droplets to spread outside the mask.
Masks with exhalation valves are not recommended, because they don’t protect others from COVID-19 and don’t limit the spread of the virus.
Medical masks, including surgical, medical procedure face masks and respirators (like N95 masks), must be kept for health care workers and others providing direct care to COVID-19 patients.
Can I make my own mask?
The Government of Canada has instructions on how to make your own masks using fabric, a t-shirt or a bandanna, sewn or no-sew.
How do I wear a mask?
When wearing a face covering or mask:
- Immediately wash your hands before putting the face covering or mask on, before adjusting it, before taking it off and after taking it off. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to wash your hands.
- Make sure the face covering fits well, covering your mouth, nose and chin. The mask should fit your face, leaving no gaps on the sides.
- Make sure your face covering or mask is secured to your head with ties or ear loops without the need to adjust frequently.
- Ensure that the pleats on the outside are facing down, if your mask has pleats.
- Gently mould the metal strip over the bridge of your nose to ensure a close fit, if your mask has one.
- Avoid moving the face covering or mask around or touching the covering while using it.
- Do not share your face covering or mask with others, even within your own household.
- Do not leave your face covering or mask tucked under your chin, hanging from your ear, or on your forehead.
Replace the face covering or mask as soon as it becomes damp, dirty, damaged or if it has shrunk after washing and drying.
- DO wear a non-medical mask or face covering to protect others.
- DO ensure the mask is made of at least two layers of tightly woven fabric.
- DO inspect the mask for tears or holes.
- DO ensure the mask or face covering is clean and dry.
- DO wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after touching the mask or face covering.
- DO use the ear loops or ties to put on and remove the mask.
- DO ensure your nose and mouth are fully covered.
- DO replace and launder your mask whenever it becomes damp or dirty.
- DO wash your mask with hot, soapy water and let it dry completely before wearing it again.
- DO store re-usable masks in a clean paper bag until you wear it again.
- DO discard masks that cannot be washed in a plastic lined garbage bin after use.
- DON’T reuse masks that are moist, dirty or damaged.
- DON’T wear a loose mask.
- DON’T touch the mask while wearing it.
- DON’T remove the mask to talk to someone.
- DON’T hang mask from your neck or ears.
- DON’T share your mask.
- DON’T leave your used mask within the reach of others.
Remember, wearing a non-medical mask or face covering alone will not prevent the spread of COVID-19. You must also wash your hands often, practise physical distancing and stay home if you are sick.
Removing and disposing of face coverings
Removing and disposing of face coverings
Wearing a face covering or mask can increase your risk of infection if you touch your face more frequently to adjust it or if you do not wash your hands before putting it on and taking it off.
When taking off a face covering or mask:
- Wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and then remove your face covering or mask by pulling the ties or ear loops away from your ears.
- Put the face covering or mask into a bag to keep it separate from other items until it can be washed or thrown out in a lined garbage bin
- If your face covering or mask has a removable, non-reusable filter, make sure to remove and throw it out before washing your mask.
- To wash the face covering or mask, put it directly into the washing machine. Throw out the bag it was stored in. Wash your hands again with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after handling your face covering or mask.
- Wash the face covering or mask with other laundry using a hot water cycle. No special soaps are needed.
- Disposable masks should not be washed, reused or recycled.
When disposing of a damaged/dirty face covering or mask:
- Throw it out into a lined garbage bin.
- Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Do not leave any discarded masks in shopping carts or on the ground.
Poster: How to safely use a non-medical mask or face covering
Fact sheet: Non-medical masks and face coverings
Fact sheet: Mask use for non-healthcare workers
Fact sheet: When and how to wear a mask