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Masks

Facemasks can be worn to help protect those around you and should be worn by people who are sick.

Wear a mask if you are sick

Masks should be used by sick people to prevent transmission to other people. Masks are an appropriate part of infection prevention and control if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or are caring for a person with symptoms. The mask acts as a barrier and helps stop the tiny droplets from spreading when you cough or sneeze. Wearing a mask does not make it okay to go out but it can help prevent the spread of germs at home especially if you cannot separate yourself from others in the home.

Using a mask is not enough and should be combined with other preventative measures such as frequent hand washing and physical distancing. Learn more about the precautions you should take if you are sick.

Wearing masks if you are healthy

Wearing a non-medical or cloth mask or face covering is a matter of personal choice but can help to protect others. Some people can spread the virus when they have very mild symptoms or may be unaware they are infected. In this case, wearing a mask can help protect others by containing your own droplets from coughing, sneezing, speaking or laughing. Wearing a cloth mask will not protect you from COVID-19 but it is a good option in situations where you cannot keep a safe distance from others for an extended period of time such as when you are on transit, getting a haircut or visiting someone indoors.

Any mask, no matter how efficient at filtration or how good the seal, will have minimal effect if it is not used together with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand washing and physical distancing. 

It is important to treat people wearing masks with respect.

Types of masks

Medical masks and N95 respirators should be reserved for healthcare workers. If a person is symptomatic or caring for someone who is symptomatic, it is better to use commercial masks if available.

Healthy people can use homemade or cloth masks to protect others. If you are making a mask, here is some information to improve the effectiveness of homemade masks:

  • Some materials are better than others. Use clean and stretchy 100% cotton, tea towels, sheets, t-shirts or pillowcases.
  • Ensure the mask fits tightly around the nose and mouth; material that allows droplets to pass through gaps will not work.
  • The mask should be comfortable, or you won’t want to wear it consistently.
  • If the mask makes it a lot harder to breathe, then the seal will not be as good, and the mask will be less effective.

Cleaning and disposing of used masks

Commercial masks should not be cleaned and reused because putting surgical masks in the washing machine may damage the protective layers in the masks, reducing their effectiveness. If you are sick or caring for someone who is sick, masks need to be changed frequently. To dispose of masks after use:
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before taking off your mask.
  • Dispose of used masks in a wastebasket lined with the plastic bag.
  • After taking off your mask, wash your hands again with soap and water before touching your face or doing anything else.
  • When emptying wastebaskets, take care to not touch used masks or tissues with your hands. All waste can go into regular garbage bins.
  • Clean your hands with soap and water after emptying the wastebasket.
Homemade or cloth masks should be cleaned and changed often:
  • To clean a homemade cloth mask, wash it using the directions on the original material (for example, if the mask was made from t-shirt material, follow the washing instructions on the t-shirt tag) but in general, warmer water is better.  Dry the mask completely (in the dryer using a warm/hot setting if possible). 
  • Do not shake dirty masks to minimize spreading germs and particles through the air. If dirty cloth masks have been in contact with someone who is sick they can still be washed with other people’s laundry.
  • Any damage, fabric break down, or change in fit will reduce the already limited protection of cloth masks.

Health care professionals

Healthcare professionals will wear surgical masks, eye protection and gowns in order to protect themselves and other patients. For some procedures, they will wear specialized masks. Please refer to the information for health care providers about personal protective equipment.

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