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Masks

Masks are most effective when fitted, worn and handled correctly. They act as a barrier and, in combination with other measures, can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Last updated: September 2, 2021
Masks are one of many layers of protection we use to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Wearing a mask should be combined with other important protective measures such as getting both doses of your COVID-19 vaccine,  frequent hand washing, and avoiding crowded spaces

Masks are required to be worn in public indoor spaces by everyone over 12 years of age. 

Masks are most effective when fitted, worn and handled correctly. They act as a barrier and help stop the spread of droplets from a person’s mouth and nose when talking, laughing, yelling, singing, coughing, or sneezing. 

Masks should:
  • Cover the mouth and nose and go under the chin
  • Fit tightly with no gaps (consider adjustable masks)
  • Be made of three layers of fabric, including two layers of tightly-woven fabric, with a filter or filter fabric between layers.
  • If there are two layers with a pocket for a filter, use a filter

The information on this page is for the public. Health care professionals should refer to information about personal protective equipment for health care settings.

In this section

  1. When to wear a mask
  2. How to wear a mask
  3. Types of masks
  4. Cleaning and disposing of masks

When to wear a mask

  • COVID-19 is spread through infected droplets from a person’s mouth or nose. Some people can spread the virus when they have very mild symptoms or may not know that they have COVID-19.
  • All people 12 and older are required to wear a mask in indoor public spaces regardless of their vaccination status. This includes shopping malls, schools, grocery stores, community centres and on public transportation or in taxis and rideshares. Read about the PHO order on masks in public indoor settings.
  • Some people cannot wear a mask because they cannot put on or remove a mask on their own or for psychological, behavioural or health conditions. Some people may also need to remove their masks to communicate due to a hearing impairment. Be respectful of people who can't wear a mask.
  • Wear a mask if you are sick and cannot distance from others at home. Learn more about the precautions you should take if you are sick.
  • Wear a medical mask if you are caring for a person with symptoms of COVID-19. This is particularly important if you will be in direct contact with a sick person’s droplets, saliva or other bodily fluids. Learn more about caring for someone with COVID-19

Do not put a face mask or any covering including visors and eye protection on infants under two years of age. A facemask or covering will make it difficult for a baby to breathe because their airways are still small. There is also a risk that parts of the facemask, visor or eye protection can come off and become a choking hazard. See information about keeping your baby safe during COVID-19 from Perinatal Services BC.

How to wear a mask

A properly fitted mask sits closely over the mouth, nose, cheeks and chin of the person wearing it.

  • It is important to make sure the mask can be held in place comfortably with ties or ear loops to reduce the need to adjust the mask. If it is not comfortable, you won’t want to wear it consistently.
  • Masks should only be used by one person and should never be shared.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands before and after putting on and taking off a mask.

Please see the How to wear a facemask poster for information on how to properly put on and take off a face mask or watch the video:

 

Types of masks

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Homemade masks

If you are making a mask, here is some information to help make an effective mask:

  • Homemade masks can be made from different materials, but some materials are better than others. Use clean 100% cotton, polyester or a cotton-polyester blend.
  • Homemade masks should have at least three layers to make sure that droplets don’t pass through the fabric. The most important thing is having these three layers with a mask that fits well.

Here are some instructions on how to make cloth masks: Non-medical masks and face coverings: Sew and no-sew instructions

Face shields

Face shields do not replace non-medical masks. Face shields are commonly worn with a mask underneath for extra protection and are used to protect you from oncoming splashes and sprays. 

The design of the face shield does not necessarily protect other people as it may not block all of your droplets or spray, which can escape from the bottom or sides of the shield. The BC Centre for Disease Control does not recommend the use of face shields as a substitute for masks

Your employer may ask you to wear a face shield as extra protection. The face shield should not replace other prevention measures such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, barriers, and non-medical masks. 

Face shields when masks are not an option

  • When communicating using lip-reading, when visual facial cues are essential, or when people may be unable to wear a mask due to a medical condition, a face shield may be an alternative to no mask. 
  • Some face shields may provide better protection than others. When needed, use face shields that wrap around your face and extend below the chin as well as hooded face shields.
  • Non-medical clear masks that cover the nose and mouth are another option when visual communication is necessary. These options have not been widely assessed for their effectiveness. 

Mouth shields


A mouth shield offers even less protection – these shields extend upwards from the chin instead of downwards from the forehead and usually only cover 2-3 inches of your face; therefore, mouth shields are not recommended.

Cleaning and disposing of masks

Medical masks should not be cleaned and reused because putting them in the washing machine may damage the protective layers, reducing their effectiveness. All masks should be changed frequently. Fabric masks should be cleaned frequently. If a mask is wet or visibly dirty it should be thrown-out or cleaned. A wet mask should not be used for an extended period of time.

To dispose of medical masks after use:

  • Wash or sanitize your hands before and after taking your mask or face shield off.
  • Disposable face shields should only be worn once.
  • Put the used masks in a garbage bin. Do not litter.
  • After taking off your mask, wash or sanitize your hands again.
  • When emptying garbage bins, don’t touch used masks or tissues with your hands. All waste can go into regular garbage bins.

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. You can wash by hand or in a washing machine. Warmer water is better.  Dry the mask completely.
  • 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 protection of cloth masks.
  • Reusable face shields should be cleaned and disinfected after each use. 
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