Learn about the latest guidance for the use of face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. This post is updated regularly. Last updated: July 27, 2021
Face masks are obviously one of the big topics of conversation during the COVID-19 pandemic. As understanding about COVID-19 and the way it spreads has evolved over the last year, so has scientific guidance about how to protect yourself and those around you. Research shows that masks and face coverings, if widely worn, can substantially reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 wear a mask when indoors in public places if they live in areas of the country with high transmission of the virus. This recommendation was made to maximize protection against the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.
You can locate areas of the country with high transmission of COVID-19 on CDC’s website.
CDC says people who are vaccinated and do not live in areas of high transmission should consider wearing a mask indoors as well, particularly if they have a weakened immune system or live with someone with a weakened immune system or is not fully vaccinated.
For people who are not fully vaccinated, CDC recommends they wear a mask (or cloth face covering) when outside of your home or around people who don’t live in your household. This includes indoor and outdoor settings. Unvaccinated children and those with a compromised immune system are also encouraged to wear a mask.
When wearing a mask, it should fit snugly against the face and include layers that can keep your respiratory droplets in and others’ out. It’s best to use a mask with a nose wire to prevent openings at the top of the mask. A mask fitter or brace can improve fit.
For some people, mask mandates may involve a trade-off with personal freedom, but it’s clear the benefits outweigh any potential harms, doctors say in a December 2020 article in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Until the pandemic is over, it’s also recommended people wear masks when:
- indoor ventilation is poor
- large numbers of people are gathered
- people are singing or shouting
- when contact with other people is prolonged
Face masks may be required by federal, state or local law, or in a business or workplace.
Always use a clean mask for each outing. If possible, don’t take your mask off and put it back on during a single outing, as touching the mask increases the possibility of exposure. Wash your hands before putting a mask on and after taking it off.
Surgical face masks, N95 masks, and other medical grade masks are critical supplies and should be reserved for healthcare workers and other first responders. KN95 masks are acceptable alternatives to the professional-grade N95 masks.
Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials. They are recommended to help slow the spread of the virus and keep people who may have the virus but not know it from transmitting it to others. Think of it this way – my mask protects you and your mask protects me!
Should people with asthma wear masks?
Many people with asthma have questioned if it is safe for them to wear a mask. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), there is no evidence that wearing a face mask can worsen your asthma.
Data from a recent study presented at the 2021 AAAAI annual meeting found that wearing a face mask does not affect oxygen saturation levels, whether the wearer has asthma or not. Oxygen saturation levels among study participants were between 93-100%, with an average of 98% for people with asthma. Normal oxygen saturation is between 96-98%.
“This data reinforces that wearing a mask, whether it is a surgical mask, cloth mask or N95, is completely safe,” says study author and board-certified allergist Alan Baptist, MD. “This is true for all individuals whether they have a diagnosis of asthma or not. Wearing a mask is an essential step we can all take to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
Some people with severe asthma still may feel it is difficult to breathe while wearing a face mask. If you don’t feel you can wear a mask due to severe asthma, it may be best for you to stay home or avoid public places as much as possible. Ask family and friends to run errands for you. If you must go out, avoid large crowds and practice social distancing. Being in public without a face mask may increase your chances of getting COVID-19 or passing it on to others.
If you are experiencing difficulty breathing when wearing a mask, it is important to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to review your asthma control or seek emergency care.
Is there a type of asthma face mask or allergy face mask recommended?
There is no endorsement of a “best mask” for patients with asthma or chronic lung diseases. Cloth masks are recommended for non-healthcare personnel. Fabric selection must balance sufficient capacity to trap viral particles with comfort. Recommended fabrics include cotton blends, 100% cotton T-shirt fabric and sheets/pillowcases with high thread counts. Two layers of fabric or one layer of fabric plus a filter layer are most commonly recommended. Too many layers will result in a mask that makes breathing difficult.
If someone is having trouble breathing, they should probably avoid wearing a mask as this could lead to worsening of their respiratory status. CDC recommends wearing a bandana, which may be the most comfortable approach for persons with lung conditions since it is not constricting.
We recognize that for many people, masks are inconvenient and not always comfortable. Try on a variety of masks, materials and styles to see what is comfortable for you and your family. For kids to be compliant, it may be helpful to involve them in choosing their masks and let them practice wearing them at home. Adults should set a good example by wearing a mask in public and modeling other good hygiene practices.
Remember it is the responsibility of all of us to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
What face masks should be avoided?
CDC recommends against using valved or vented N95 masks. These masks contain openings through which air is exhaled and are designed to filter out particles.
Valved or vented masks may actually be counterproductive, causing the user to release respiratory droplets into the air. This type of mask does not prevent the person wearing the mask from transmitting COVID-19 to others.
What COVID-19 face mask policies should be in place in schools?
Schoolchildren should return to full-time in-person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies in place.
CDC is recommending universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status. Since children under 12 are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, CDC recommends they also wear a mask outdoors when in crowded settings and social distancing is not possible.
CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students’ desks in classrooms. When combined with wearing face masks, this should help reduce any spread of COVID-19.
Should I wear two face masks instead of one?
For extra protection from the COVID-19 virus, the CDC suggests people wear a cloth mask with multiple layers or wear a cloth mask over a disposable surgical mask. The second mask should push the edges of the inner mask tightly against your face.
The recommendation comes after CDC conducted lab experiments involving face masks. The experiments found that wearing a cloth mask over a surgical mask can reduce exposure by about 95%. It can also decrease spread of the virus to others.
When wearing two masks, make sure you can see and breathe easily, CDC says. Do not wear a second mask with a KN95 mask, the alternative to the professional-grade N95 masks. Do not wear two disposable face masks at one time.
Double masking “offers more protection against COVID-19 as less particles are breathed in and fewer are released,” says Purvi Parikh, MD, board-certified allergist and national spokesperson for Allergy & Asthma Network. “Many healthcare workers, including myself, already double up on masks at work.”
Wearing two face masks can also help fight against COVID-19 variants, public health experts say. Several different variants have emerged in 2021. They are believed to be easier to pass on to other people.
Can I wear a face shield instead of a mask if I have asthma?
A face shield is primarily used for eye protection for the person wearing it. CDC says there is currently not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of face shields for protection from or transmission of COVID-19 respiratory droplets. Therefore, CDC does not currently recommend use of face shields as a substitute for masks.
However, wearing a mask may not be feasible in every situation for some people – people who are deaf or hard of hearing or those who interact with a person who is hearing impaired. CDC says data suggests the following face shields may provide better protection than others:
- Face shields that wrap around the sides of the wearer’s face and extend below the chin.
- Hooded face shields.
We encourage you to keep up with the latest information about COVID-19 by visiting our COVID-19 Information Center regularly. If you are preparing to send your child off to school this year, also check out our COVID-19 School Resources for Managing Asthma and Allergies.