Even as more and more people get vaccinated against COVID-19, masks are still a proven way to help stop the spread of the virus.
How Do Masks Help?
COVID-19 can spread when people breathe, talk, cough, or sneeze. A well-fitting mask keeps the virus from reaching others. It can also protect the wearer from becoming infected. Also, masks stop people from touching their mouths and faces — contaminated hands are another way for the virus to spread.
Who Should Wear a Mask?
In most public places in the U.S., masks are no longer required for healthy people who haven't been exposed to COVID-19. But it’s still a good idea for people to wear them (especially indoors or in crowded outdoor settings) if they:
- live in an area with a high rate of COVID-19 infections
- have weak immune systems or some types of medical conditions
- take public transportation
Mask guidelines can change based on the rates of COVID-19 in a community at any given time. For now, people should always wear masks if they have COVID-19 or if they have been exposed to it.
Who Shouldn't Wear a Mask?
The only people who should not wear a mask are children younger than 2 years old, and anyone who can't take a mask off without help.
Many studies have shown that masks can be safely worn by children over age 2, even if they have a health condition. Concerns about masks being unsafe have been disproven. Masks will not block oxygen from getting into a child’s lungs, and they don't affect learning and development.
What Type of Masks Are Best for Kids?
Some types of masks are better than others. For masks to be most effective, they should:
- Block germs well. A mask should have multiple layers, and it should not have a vent. Cloth masks have been popular, and they are better than nothing, but they don’t seem to block germs as well as surgical (disposable) masks. The best germ-blockers are called "respirators." These have been tested and meet high filtration standards. Look for them with names like KN95 or KF94.
- Fit snugly. Masks should cover the nose and mouth both and have no gaps on the sides.
- Be comfortable. Any mask worn comfortably is better than no mask at all. If a respirator is not comfortable, try a surgical mask, or a surgical mask with a cloth mask on top.
Wash cloth masks often, and throw out disposable masks after use. Respirators can usually be reused a few times, until they are dirty or damaged and no longer fit snugly. Store these in a paper bag between uses.
To help kids wear masks:
- Teach kids how to put masks on and take them off. Remind them that masks should always cover the nose and mouth. They should handle masks by the ear loops and ties so that the mask does not get dirty.
- Make it fun and personal. You can find fun, colorful masks in many stores. Look for ones with superhero characters, movie favorites, silly faces, or animal prints. A personal touch can help make masks a more normal part of their routine.
For more information about masks, visit the CDC's guide.