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Coronavirus is spread through inhaling respiratory droplets. Wearing a mask can reduce your risk of getting and spreading the disease. It also reinforces physical distancing, and shows you care about the health of others.

Many areas in California now mandate the use of a mask or a cloth face covering outside the home. And certain industries are required to have workers wear a mask or other PPE while on the job. So it’s important to understand the different kinds of masks and the right way to wear them.

Who needs a mask?

  • Anyone going outside their home
  • Workers in customer-facing industries
  • Workers in offices, factories, or any group setting
  • Doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals
  • And other workers, as dictated by industry guidance

Who shouldn’t wear a mask?

  • Children under 2 years old
  • Anyone with respiratory issues where it would impede their breathing
  • Anyone unable to remove the mask without help

Kinds of masks

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

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. 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.

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

Wearing a cloth mask doesn’t take the place of social 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 instructions from the California Department of Public Health.

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

This is a manufactured paper mask, often used in surgery. Medical personnel wear surgical masks, but so do workers in:

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

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 should provide surgical masks at work. If you’re a frontline employer and need to order them for your workers, see how to Request PPE.

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

N95 mask

This is a mask that has 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.  

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 mask is required for your job, your employer should provide them at work. If you’re a frontline employer who needs N95 masks for your workers, see how to Request PPE.

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

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