Wearing a well-fitted mask or respirator helps to protect you and those around you by preventing the spread of COVID-19. When combined with good ventilation, staying current with vaccines, and other precautions, it can reduce the chances of serious illness and the disruptions that COVID-19 causes in our communities.
Masks continue to be required in some settings. The Secretary of Health Mask Order requires wearing a mask in these settings, regardless of vaccination status:
- Health care settings
- Adult prison and jail facilities when the county in which the facility is located has a medium or high CDC COVID-19 Community Level
There are limited exceptions to this requirement; these can be found in the Order.
School districts and individual businesses may still choose to require masks. If you are in a setting where COVID-19 safety measures are in place, please follow them. The goal of these safety measures is to protect staff, employees, students, yourself, and others. DOH guidance documents provide additional information on where masks are still required or recommended.
Even though masks are no longer required in many places, it is recommended that individuals wear masks in the following circumstances:
- When indoors in public transportation settings
- When indoors in certain settings when CDC COVID-19 Community Level is medium or high – see COVID-19 Mask Guidance for the list of settings
- Indoors when CDC COVID-19 Community Level is high
- When they have COVID-19 symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19, in accordance with recommendations in What to do if you test positive for COVID-19, COVID-19 Symptom Decision Trees, and What to do if you were potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19
People may want to continue to wear a mask for added protection against COVID-19, especially those who are immunocompromised, living with someone immunocompromised, or who may just feel safer wearing a mask. Everyone should assess their own personal risk when making this decision.
Additionally, everyone should continue to use COVID-19 prevention measures such as staying up to date on vaccination, handwashing, testing, using good ventilation indoors, and staying home when you’re sick.
How do I decide if should wear a mask if not required?
You may decide that wearing a mask is the right decision for you for reasons such as the transmission rate in our community, your own health, the vaccination status of members of your household, and the level of risk you’re willing to take.
The safest way to prevent getting COVID-19 or passing it on to someone else is to get vaccinated, boosted if you’re eligible, and wear a mask when in indoor public spaces. Questions that may help you make a decision about whether to wear a mask include:
- What health risks do you and your family members have? For example, do you or anyone in your family is an older adult or has an underlying health condition, such as diabetes or heart disease?
- Do you have young children in your household who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated?
- Are you fully vaccinated and boosted?
- How high is COVID-19 transmission in the community?
At All COVID-19 Community Levels
- People may choose to mask at any time. Masks are recommended in indoor public transportation settings and may be required in other places by local or state authorities.
How to spot counterfeit masks
Masks from legitimate sources will have:
- Tamper-free, sealed packaging. Be wary of masks that are packaged in a bag with a twist tie or zip-lock close.
- Packaging clearly marked with a legitimate website, physical address, the manufacturing location and expiration date.
- Proper official language. For example, if an N95 mask is labeled “FDA approved,” that is a red flag. N95s are approved by NIOSH, not the FDA. Counterfeit masks may come with a “certificate of approval,” but NIOSH does not issue such approvals.
- A company name or logo imprinted directly on the mask material.
- Effective quality control. Masks that are damaged or have issues that compromise the fit, such as elastic bands that are too loose or a broken nose-bridge, shouldn’t be trusted.
N95 masks will also have:
- A NIOSH mark that is easily visible and spelled correctly.
- An approval number that starts with “TC-84A” followed by four more numbers imprinted on the mask or head bands. If the mask is NIOSH-approved it will be on this list.
- Elastic bands that go around the head, creating a tighter seal and better protection. Most NIOSH-approved N95 masks do not have ear loops.
KN95 masks will also have:
- A GB marking indicating it meets Chinese national standards.
- KN95s made after July 1, 2021, must be stamped with “GB-2626-2019.”
- KN95s made prior to July 1, 2021, must be stamped with “GB-2626-2006,” and if the expiration date hasn’t passed they are still good.
How to verify before you buy:
- Try to purchase masks directly from a supplier instead of a third-party online seller.
- Check NIOSH’s list of approved N95 respirators and their manufacturers.
- Check the NIOSH database of foreign-made respirators sold in the United States. These masks do not have NIOSH approval and aren’t recommended for use by health care workers, but they are suitable for the general population during everyday activities.
- Be skeptical of companies that overuse words like, “genuine,” legitimate,” or “reputable” when describing their products.
What mask should I wear?
- Washable, reusable and stylish
- Provide more protection when wearing a surgical mask underneath
- Provide protection against large droplets
- Intended for one-time use
- The more layers the better, check for multiple-ply when reading the label
KN95 KF94 KN90 Masks
- Products are typically foreign-made, usually China or Korea.
- The KN90 and KN95 meet China’s standard of quality requirements. The number 90 signifies the effectiveness of the mask to filter out at least 90 % of airborne particles.
- The KF94 mask are made in South Korea and meet Korea’s standard of quality requirements. They ideally filter at least 94% of airborne particles.
- Can be used multiple times with proper care.
- Ideally they will filter at least 95% of airborne particles with the proper fit.
- Approved by CDC National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
- Provide highest level of protection
- Can be fitted to seal tightly
Here’s how your mask options stack up:
- Best – N95 respirators
- Better – KN95 or KF94 respirators
- Good – Double masking with a disposable surgical mask under a cloth mask. Do not layer two disposable masks.
- Fair – A single disposable surgical mask offers better protection than a cloth mask.
- Least protective – A single cloth mask provides the least protection but is better than no mask all.
People are encouraged to use the mask that’s appropriate for their current situation.
General Mask Tips
- Wear a mask that fits over your nose, mouth and under your chin.
- Choose a mask that offers high protection and is comfortable to wear.
- Pick a mask with at least 2 layers to keep droplets out
- Make sure you can not see light through your mask
- Do not use a wet, ripped or torn mask.
- Consider using a mask with greater protection when caring for someone with COVID-19, around others at increased risk of severe illness and when in crowded indoor settings.