Masks prevent people from getting and spreading COVID-19. Every Californian must wear a mask or face covering when outside of their home, with limited exceptions. Read more in the expanded mask guidance.

On this page you will find:

How masks help stop the spread

Coronavirus spreads when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes within 6 feet of others. You may have the virus and spread it even if you feel well. 

To prevent infection, you must cover your nose and mouth when outside your home. Wearing a mask is now required statewide. It can slow the spread of COVID-19 by limiting the release of virus into the air. Cloth masks or face coverings can reduce your exposure to infectious droplets through filtration. It also reinforces physical distancing, and shows you care about the health of others.

Mask wearing exceptions

Individuals are excepted from wearing a mask when:

  • In a car alone or solely with members of their own household.
  • Working in an office or in a room alone.
  • Actively eating or drinking. You should maintain a distance of at least six feet from those not in your household.
  • Outdoors and maintaining at least 6 feet of social distance from others not in their household. You must have a face covering with you at all times and must put it on if you are within 6 feet of others who are not in your household.
  • Getting a service to the nose or face for which temporary removal of the mask is necessary.
  • Your job  requires you to wear respiratory protection.
  • You are specifically exempted from wearing face coverings by industry specific guidance.

Some people are exempt from wearing face coverings at all times:

  • Children younger than two years old. These very young children must not wear a face covering because of the risk of suffocation.
  • Those with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a face covering. This includes those with rare medical conditions for whom wearing a face covering could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a face covering without assistance. 
  • Those who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired. In these cases, the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
  • Those for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.

Read the official mask guidance from the California Department of Public Health.

How to wear a mask

Don’t wear your mask under your nose or just on your chin. A mask is only effective if it covers both ways you breathe.

Wear a mask correctly and consistently for the best protection

  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before putting on your mask
    • Do not  touch the mask when wearing it
  • Put the mask over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin
  • Fit the mask snugly against the sides of your face, slipping the loops over your ears or tying the strings behind your head
  • Make sure you can breathe easily
  • If you have to continually adjust your mask, it doesn’t fit properly. Try a different mask type or brand.

The CDC has more information about how to wear masks.

Choosing a mask

Most people should wear a cloth mask or face covering.

The most effective cloth masks are

  • Made of tightly woven fabrics, such as cotton or cotton blends
  • Easy to breathe through
  • Two or three fabric layers

Less effective cloth masks are

  • Made of loosely woven fabrics, such as loose knit
  • Difficult to breathe through (like plastic or leather)
  • Single layer

Read the CDC’s information about choosing a mask.

Kinds of masks

There are many kinds of masks, but these are the 3 most common.

Cloth mask or face covering

Cloth mask or face covering

This is cloth used to cover the nose and mouth, tied behind the head, or secured over the ears with elastic loops. It is made of cotton, silk, linen, or neoprene, and can be machine-made or hand-sewn. A homemade version can be improvised from a scarf or t-shirt. It should be made of tightly woven fabric.

Most people should wear a cloth mask. This is so there can be enough surgical masks and N95 respirator masks for medical personnel.

Wearing a cloth face covering doesn’t take the place of physical distancing. It is effective when combined with keeping a 6-foot distance from others.

Use and care: Wear a clean mask every time you go out. Wash in the laundry or by hand between uses. See more mask care instructions from the CDC.

Where to find: Many online sellers now offer masks in a variety of materials. You can also make your own. Read how in this cloth mask guidance from the CDC.

Surgical mask

Surgical mask

This is a manufactured disposable mask, often used in surgery. Medical personnel wear them for protection against fluid splashes.

Some non-medical workers also wear surgical masks for disposability and fluid protection. They include those who work in:

  • Manufacturing
  • Food processing
  • Community/social services
  • Social work
  • In-home day care
  • Law enforcement/public safety
  • Schools

Don’t buy surgical masks for personal use. They are part of PPE needed by medical professionals.

Use and care: Start with a new mask every day. Replace and dispose of it according to your workplace guidelines.

Where to find: If you are in one of the above industries, your employer must provide masks at work. If you’re a frontline employer and need to order them for your workers, see how to get PPE.

N95 respirator mask

N95 respirator masks

This is a mask with a respirator that blocks 95% of particles that are otherwise inhaled. Medical personnel need them the most, but they’re used by some workers in other industries.

Don’t buy N95 respirator masks for personal use. They are part of PPE needed by medical professionals. 

Use and care: Start with a new mask every day. Replace and dispose of it according to your workplace guidelines.

Where to find: If an N95 respirator mask is required for your job, your employer must provide them at work. If you’re a frontline employer who needs them for your workers, see how to get PPE.

See this chart of the various types of masks (PDF) for more details. 

Questions and answers

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