COVID-19 mask use: Advice for community settings 

This advice is intended for the general public and is not intended for occupational health purposes, including health care settings. It outlines:

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Why wearing a mask continues to be important

It’s important to continue practising all public health measures recommended by local public health authorities, including individual measures, such as wearing a mask. This is because:

When layered with other recommended public health measures, a well-constructed, well-fitting and properly worn mask can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Masks can help:

When to wear a mask

Make wearing a mask part of your regular routine.

Follow local public health advice on when you should wear a mask. Masks may be recommended or required in public settings like:

Even if masks aren't required in your area or the setting you’re in, wearing a mask is an added layer of protection. Whether you’re vaccinated or not, you should consider wearing one in shared spaces with people from outside of your immediate household. This is especially important indoors, whether in private or public settings.

Masks are strongly recommended in any crowded setting, including settings with vaccination requirements.

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What type of mask to choose

Different types of masks are available for public use. Non-medical masks, medical masks and respirators can all be used in the community. A respirator worn in the community doesn’t need formal fit testing.

The effectiveness of non-medical masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19 can vary based on many factors. It depends on material, construction, fit and proper use. Some non-medical masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 similarly to medical masks if they:

Few non-medical masks provide information about their filtration effectiveness.

In general, while non-medical masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, medical masks and respirators provide better protection. No matter which type of mask you choose, proper fit is a key factor in its effectiveness.

Mask standards

There’s currently no required standard for non-medical masks sold in Canada. Medical masks and respirators sold in Canada are required to meet established standards for filtration, breathability and fluid resistance.

Situations for medical mask use

Medical masks are recommended for:

Individuals in the above situations could also consider using a respirator.

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Materials and construction

How well a mask works depends on many factors, including its materials, construction and fit.

Non-medical masks

A non-medical mask can be bought or homemade and should be made of:

  • multiple layers, including
    • at least 2 layers of tightly woven fabric, such as cotton and
    • a third, middle layer of filter-type fabric, such as non-woven polypropylene
  • materials that are breathable

Using a filter as a middle layer in your non-medical mask can help to trap smaller infectious respiratory particles.

You can include a filter in your non-medical mask by:

  • adding a filter fabric as a middle layer
  • inserting a disposable filter into a pocket on the inside of the mask
    • filters can be purchased or you can prepare your own using a piece of filter fabric

Reusable masks with an integrated filter layer can be washed multiple times.

Disposable filters should be:

  • changed as directed by the manufacturer
  • removed from the mask before washing

Medical masks and respirators

Medical masks and respirators are widely available for purchase. Their construction materials may vary, but must meet established filtration standards to be sold in Canada.

Masks with exhalation valves

Do not use masks or respirators with exhalation valves.

Masks with exhalation valves or vents allow infectious respiratory particles to spread outside the mask. These masks do not protect others from COVID-19 or limit the spread of the virus.

Fit is important for all mask types

How well a mask works also depends on fit. When choosing a mask, keep in mind:

A well-fitting mask should:

Ways to improve fit include:

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Proper use and care

To make mask use as effective as possible, it’s essential to make sure you’re using, storing and cleaning them properly.

A mask is most effective when it's worn properly. Keep your nose and mouth covered while wearing a mask to prevent exposing yourself and others to potentially infectious respiratory particles.

Wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you:

It's important to keep your mask clean when not in use, or when eating or drinking.

Do not hang the mask from your ears or place it under your chin. Store it in a clean paper or cloth bag until you put it on again.

Properly clean and disinfect any items that improve mask fit, like braces and mask fitters.

Discard disposable masks and filters properly in a garbage container or use a mask recycling program if one is available.

Non-medical masks

Change your mask as soon as possible if it gets dirty, damp or damaged. Place dirty reusable non-medical masks in a secure, waterproof bag or container until you can wash them in a washing machine or by hand. Wash the mask with hot, soapy water and dry completely before wearing again.

Medical masks and respirators

Medical masks and respirators are typically single use and disposable, but may be reused until visibly dirty, damp or damaged.

Safety considerations

When wearing a mask, make sure that it:

  • is made of breathable materials
  • can be removed quickly and safely if necessary
  • keeps your vision clear and doesn't interfere with tasks

Do not:

  • share your mask with others
  • place a mask on anyone:
    • under the age of 2 years
    • who's unable to remove it without assistance
    • who has trouble breathing while wearing the mask
  • secure a mask with tape or other inappropriate materials
  • make a mask out of materials that easily fall apart, like tissues

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Considerations for specific groups

People at higher risk of exposure or more severe disease or outcomes

Some people are at higher risk of:

  • more severe disease or outcomes if they get COVID-19
  • exposure to COVID-19 because of their living situation

If you're at higher risk, it's even more important to:

  • properly wear a well-fitting medical mask
  • consider wearing a respirator if one is available to you

If a medical mask or respirator isn’t available to you, make sure you properly wear a well-constructed and well-fitting non-medical mask.

Some people may be at increased risk of exposure due to their job or occupation. These people should follow the mask policies put in place by their workplace or employer. These policies take into account specific risks related to the settings and tasks.

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If you're sick or caring for someone who is sick

If you've been diagnosed with, or have symptoms of COVID-19, you should wear a medical mask when you:

  • have to leave your isolation location (for example, to seek medical attention)
  • are in a shared indoor space by yourself or with others, like a:
    • hallway
    • kitchen
    • washroom
  • are in a shared outdoor space with members of your household, like a:
    • balcony
    • backyard
  • are receiving care (either direct physical contact or close interactions)

Wear a medical mask if you're providing care to someone who has been diagnosed with, or has symptoms of COVID-19.

If you’re sick or caring for someone who is sick, you may also consider wearing a respirator.

If a medical mask or respirator is unavailable, wear a non-medical mask that:

  • is well fitting
  • is well constructed
  • includes a filter layer

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Children and masks

Children under the age of 2 should not wear masks.

Between the ages of 2 and 5, children may be able to wear a mask if supervised. This will depend on their ability to tolerate it as well as put it on and take it off.

Children older than 5 should wear a mask in the same situations or settings where they're recommended for adults. A child's ability to properly use and care for their mask is impacted by factors such as:

  • age
  • maturity
  • physical or cognitive ability

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Mask use for people who are hard of hearing

Some non-medical masks have transparent windows. You can use these masks:

  • if you're hard of hearing
  • if you interact with people who lip read
  • in settings where facial expression is an important part of communication

If a non-medical mask with a transparent window isn't available:

  • only the person speaking should remove their mask while communicating
  • maintain physical distancing
  • when possible, choose a well ventilated indoor space, open a window or door, or go outdoors to communicate
  • use written communication, closed captioning or decrease background noise as much as possible

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Stigma and those who can't wear masks

Some people may not be able to wear a mask. Be kind rather than making assumptions. For those unable to wear a mask, singling them out in public can be socially isolating and lead to anxiety.

Masks aren't recommended for:

  • children under the age of 2
  • people who live with illnesses or disabilities that make it difficult to put on or take off a mask without assistance
  • those who have trouble breathing while wearing the mask

Masks in the workplace

When putting in place or making changes to mask policies for the workplace, employers should consult:

  • occupational health and safety acts and regulations
  • occupational health and safety committees and/or representatives
  • reputable occupational health and safety resources, such as the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) or
  • their local public health authority

Operators of community settings should have a supply of medical masks available:

  • to give to anyone who may develop symptoms on site
  • if they need to assist a person with symptoms

This includes settings like schools, daycares, places of worship, recreational facilities or event venues.

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For manufacturers

Non-medical masks aren't considered medical devices under the Medical Devices Regulations. Face coverings or non-medical masks:

  • aren't regulated as medical devices
  • can't make medical claims or indicate they will reduce or prevent the user from being infected by a disease

To date, Health Canada hasn't approved any non-medical masks as medical devices.

Well-constructed, well-fitting and properly worn non-medical masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 from an infected wearer to others. They can help prevent the wearer from being exposed to the infectious respiratory particles of others. How effective non-medical masks are depends on their materials, construction and fit.

Manufacturers can use this advice to construct their non-medical masks. They cannot use it to make claims that non-medical masks are medical devices.

Health Canada does regulate respirators and medical masks as medical devices, which must meet a standard level of performance and quality requirements.

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Face coverings that aren't recommended

Face shields

Face shields on their own do not replace masks. A face shield can be worn in addition to a mask for added eye protection.

Without a mask, a face shield won't help prevent you or others from being exposed to infectious respiratory particles. These particles come from the nose and mouth that can escape around the face shield.

If wearing a face shield, choose one that extends around the sides of the face and below the chin. You'll still need to:

  • maintain physical distancing
  • practise good hand hygiene, especially if you touch the face shield

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Neck gaiters (neck warmers), scarves and bandanas

Neck gaiters (also known as neck warmers), scarves and bandanas aren't recommended because they:

  • don’t include a filter layer
  • aren’t made of effective materials
  • are likely to move or slip out of place
  • aren't well secured to the head or ears
  • are difficult to remove without contaminating yourself

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Environmental considerations

Many disposable and single-use masks are mostly made of plastic. Growing quantities of disposable and single-use masks are being discarded in the regular garbage, as there's little to no opportunity for recycling. This increases the amount of:

If there’s a mask recycling program where you live, consider using it.

When appropriate and possible, reusing masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 while also reducing your environmental impact.

If using a disposable mask, always make sure that you dispose of it properly in a garbage container.

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