Updated 20 May 2022
Masks are a key measure to reduce transmission and save lives.
Wearing well-fitted masks should be used as part of a comprehensive ‘Do it all!’ approach including maintaining physical distancing, avoiding crowded, closed and close-contact settings, ensuring good ventilation of indoor spaces, cleaning hands regularly, and covering sneezes and coughs with a tissue of bent elbow.
Depending on the type, masks can be used for either protection of healthy persons or to prevent onward transmission, or both.
There are three types of masks that WHO recommend for the public:
Disposable medical masks are also recommended for the following groups, because if infected, they are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 and dying:
Disposable medical masks are also recommended for:
A respirator or a medical mask should be worn by to caregivers at any setting where care is provided to patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, including home care, long-term care facilities and community care settings
In settings where there is community or cluster transmission of SARS-CoV-2, irrespective of vaccination status or history of prior infection, wearing a well-fitting mask that covers the nose and mouth is recommended for the public when interacting with individuals who are not members of their household:
It’s not always easy to determine the quality of ventilation. If you have any doubts, it’s safer to simply wear a mask. While wearing a mask, you should continue to maintain physical distance from others as much as possible. Wearing a mask does not mean you can have close contact with people.
A respirator or a medical mask should be worn by health workers along with other personal protective equipment (PPE) - gown, gloves and eye protection - before entering a room where there is a patient with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
Respirators should be worn in the following situations:
Medical masks (also known as surgical masks) are:
Respirators (also known as filtering facepiece respirators – FFP) are available at different performance levels such as FFP2, FFP3, N95, N99, N100.
Medical masks and respirator masks are similar in their filtration value. However, respirators also have a tight fit around the wearer face as the model and size of the respirator is specific to the wearer to ensure an adequate seal. Respirator masks are designed to protect health workers who provide care to COVID-19 patients in settings and areas where aerosol generating procedures are undertaken. They are also recommended for health workers providing care to suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients in settings where ventilation is known to be poor or cannot be assessed or the ventilation system is not properly maintained
Health workers should be fit tested before using a respirator to ensure that they are wearing the correct size. Wearing a loose-fitting respirator will not offer the same level of protection to the wearer as it may allow small particles to get inside the mask where there are gaps, for example through the side.
Filtration, breathability and fit are all important.
If you purchase a non-medical mask, check the labels to make sure it complies with the ASTM F3502 standard or CEN Working Agreement 17553.
If you choose to make your own mask, it should be made of three layers of fabric:
Watch the video on WHO’s recommended fabric mask materials and composition for more information.
For either type of mask, you should choose the one that fits your face well - cover your nose, cheeks and chin without leaving gaps on the sides. Masks with vents or exhalation valves are not advised because they allow unfiltered breath to escape the mask.
When health workers are caring for COVID-19 patients, they should wear a respirator or a medical mask.
If COVID-19 is widely spreading, visitors, along with health workers and caregivers, should wear a well-fitting medical mask at all times when caring for non-COVID-19 patients and in all common areas, even if physical distancing can be maintained.
Health workers, caregivers and visitors must remember to combine hand hygiene with any time they touch their medical mask or face, before and after putting on and removing them, as well as before they touch them to readjust them.
Health workers should continue to physically distance and avoid unnecessary close contact with colleagues and others in the facility when not providing patient care.
Inpatients are not required to wear a medical mask in general. A mask may be required if physical distancing of at least 1 metre cannot be maintained (e.g., during examinations or bedside visits) or when the patient is outside of their care area (e.g., when being transported), provided the patient is able to tolerate the mask and there are no contraindications.
How to put on and wear a fabric mask:
How to take off and store a fabric mask:
How to clean a fabric mask:
Watch our ‘How to wear a fabric mask’ video for a demonstration.
How to put on and take off a medical mask:
How to take off a medical mask:
Even when you’re in an area of COVID-19 transmission, masks should not be worn during vigorous physical activity because of the risk of reducing your breathing capacity. No matter how intensely you exercise, keep at least 1 metre away from others, and if you’re indoors, make sure there is adequate ventilation.