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.

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Why wearing a mask is important

COVID-19 will continue to spread at different levels in our communities, and outbreaks will still occur.

Masks are one of the most effective individual public health measures that we can use to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19.

When layered with other public health measures, a well-constructed, well-fitting and properly worn mask can help prevent you from:

In the longer term, there may be situations when we need to strongly rely on masking. For example, when there:

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Personal choices on mask use

Some people may continue to wear masks, and others may not. Remember to be kind, understanding and respectful of people's personal choices.

When to wear a mask

We recommend that you wear a mask in public indoor settings. You should feel free to wear a mask even if it's not required in your community or setting. This is an appropriate personal decision.

It's especially important to wear a mask if you're:

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What type of respirator or mask to choose

Choose the best quality and best fitting respirator or mask available to you. You can use respirators, medical masks and non-medical masks in the community.

In general, while non-medical masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, respirators and medical masks provide better protection.

No matter which type of respirator or mask you choose, it needs to fit properly to be effective. Respirators don't need formal fit testing for use in the community.

Mask standards

Respirators and medical masks sold in Canada have to meet established standards for filtration, breathability and fluid resistance.

There's currently no required standard for non-medical masks sold in Canada. Few non-medical masks provide information about their filtration effectiveness.

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Materials and construction

How well a mask works depends on factors like its materials, construction, fit and proper use.

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 as medical masks and respirators in Canada.

Non-medical masks

The effectiveness of non-medical masks varies based on material, construction, fit and proper use. Some are similarly effective to medical masks if they:

  • fit well and are used properly
  • have an effective middle filter layer and
  • have multiple layers, including at least 2 layers of breathable tightly woven fabric, like cotton

Mask filters

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 such as non-woven polypropylene as a middle layer
  • inserting a disposable filter into a pocket on the inside of the mask
    • you can buy or make your own filters using a piece of filter fabric

You can wash reusable masks with an integrated filter layer multiple times.

Change disposable filters as per manufacturer's instructions. Remove them from the mask before washing.

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.

What specific groups need to know

If you're sick

Stay home when you're sick or experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, even if mild. If you have to share a space with others while sick, wear the best quality and best fitting respirator or mask that's available to you.

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Children and masks

Children under the age of 2 should not wear masks.

Children between the ages of 2 and 5 may be able to wear a mask with supervision if they can:

  • tolerate it
  • put it on
  • take it off

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

  • maintain physical distancing
  • when possible, communicate:
    • outdoors
    • in a well-ventilated indoor space
    • somewhere you can open a window or door
  • as much as possible, you should:
    • use closed captioning
    • use written communication
    • decrease background noise
  • only remove your mask if you're the one communicating

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Masks in the workplace

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

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

Operators of community settings should have a supply of respirators or masks available:

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

This includes settings like:

  • schools
  • daycares
  • event venues
  • places of worship
  • recreational facilities

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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'll 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, fit and proper use.

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 with 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, and can escape around the face shield.

If you wear 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, scarves and bandanas

We do not recommend neck gaiters (such as neck warmers), scarves and bandanas because they're not effective filters and don't fit well.

Environmental considerations

Many disposable masks are mostly made of plastic. Disposable masks are being thrown in the regular garbage at an increasing rate, with few opportunities for recycling. This increases the amount of:

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

Reusing masks when possible and appropriate 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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