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COVID-19 and face masks

COVID-19 - face coverings; Coronavirus - face masks

In places where COVID-19 is spreading, wearing a face mask in public helps protect other people from possible infection with COVID-19. Other people who wear masks help protect you from infection. Wearing a face mask may also protect you from infection.

Wearing face masks helps reduce the spray of respiratory droplets from the nose and mouth. Using face masks in public settings helps reduce the spread of COVID-19.


Face masks prevent the spread of COVID-19
How to wear a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) makes recommendations about when to wear a mask based on the level of COVID-19 community spread. You can look up the level of community spread in your area on the CDC website.

Here are the CDC mask recommendations for all people age 2 and older based on levels of community spread.




Regardless of how low community spread may be, you may choose to wear a mask at any time.

You should wear a mask if you:

Effective January 29, 2021, masks were required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in US transportation hubs such as airports and stations. Since then, many local governments have relaxed these requirements. You can find out the requirements for your location by checking the website of the local health department.

How Masks Help Protect People From COVID-19

COVID-19 spreads most readily to people within close contact (about 6 feet or 2 meters). When someone with the illness coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice, respiratory droplets spray into the air. You and others can catch the illness if you breathe in these droplets, or if you touch these droplets and then touch your eye, nose, mouth, or face.

Wearing a face mask over your nose and mouth keeps droplets from spraying out into the air when you are speaking, coughing, or sneezing. Wearing a mask also helps keep you from touching your face.

About Face Masks

When choosing a face mask, follow these recommendations:

The CDC provides more detailed information on ways to increase mask protection.

Learn how to properly wear and care for a face mask:

Face masks should not be worn by:

For some people, or in some situations, wearing a face mask may be difficult. Examples include:

In these types of situations, staying at least 6 feet away (2 meters) from others is particularly important. Being outside can also help. There may be other ways to adapt as well, for example, some face masks are made with a piece of clear plastic so the wearer's lips can be seen. You can also talk with your health care provider to discuss other ways to adapt to the situation.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19: COVID-19 by county. Updated August 11, 2022. Accessed August 15, 2022

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19: Use and care of masks. Updated February 25, 2022. Accessed August 15, 2022.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19: Types of masks and respirators. Updated January 28, 2022. Accessed August 15, 2022.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19: Use and care of masks. Updated February 25, 2022. Accessed August 15, 2022.


Review Date: 8/5/2022  

Reviewed By: Frank D. Brodkey, MD, FCCM, Associate Professor, Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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