Skip to Content
Masks: COVID-19 - Minnesota Dept. of Health

Masks: COVID-19

Updated 11/3/2022

On this page:
COVID-19 community levels and individual considerations
When to wear a mask
Laws or policies may require masks in some settings
Types of masks
How to wear a mask
Reasonable accommodations

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is spread by respiratory droplets and aerosol particles that go into the air when people breathe, talk, cough, or sneeze. Because of how the virus spreads, wearing a mask continues to be an important way to prevent infection. Wearing a mask may also prevent the spread of other respiratory infections, such as the flu (influenza).

COVID-19 community levels and individual considerations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies every county in the United States into low, medium, or high-risk categories. These categories are called CDC COVID-19 community levels. The levels are based on new COVID-19 cases, new hospital admissions, and hospital capacity. The community levels measure the impact of COVID-19 on health and health care systems. CDC recommends different prevention measures for each level. To see what your CDC community level is and the precautions for each level, visit CDC: COVID-19 by County. CDC updates the levels on a weekly basis. Note that COVID-19 transmission occurs at all levels and a "low" level does not equal "no risk."

Many people with certain medical conditions continue to be at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19. To find a list of factors that may put someone at higher risk, visit CDC: People with Certain Medical Conditions.

According to the CDC, factors a person should consider in deciding when to mask include the CDC COVID-19 community level in their area, whether they are at high risk of severe illness, the risks of people around them, and personal preference and comfort level. The masking recommendations below include these CDC considerations and additional MDH considerations for people who are immunocompromised or at higher risk of severe disease.

When to wear a mask

This section describes CDC and MDH mask recommendations based on the CDC COVID-19 community level in your area and the individual COVID-19 risks for you and others around you. While MDH encourages all Minnesotans to follow these minimum precautions, it is important to know that you may always choose to wear a mask if it makes you feel safer, regardless of current risk factors or the CDC COVID-19 community level. Wear the most protective (highest quality) mask that is available to you, that fits well, and that you will wear consistently, especially if you are immunocompromised or at high risk of severe disease from COVID-19. Refer to the section below on "types of masks" for more information.

Always follow public health recommendations for when to wear a mask if:

CDC recommends masking in indoor public transportation settings regardless of the CDC COVID-19 community level. Masks are recommended on public conveyances (examples: airplane, train, or bus), and in the transportation hub (examples: an airport, train station, or bus station).  For more information, visit CDC: Wearing Masks in Travel and Public Transportation Settings.

High CDC COVID-19 community level

If you are in an area with a high CDC COVID-19 community level, wear a mask in public indoor settings – including K-12 schools and other indoor community settings – regardless of vaccination status, risk factors for severe illness, or previous COVID-19 infection.

In addition, if you are immunocompromised or at increased risk of severe COVID-19 illness, consider avoiding nonessential indoor activities in public settings where you could be exposed to COVID-19. Also consider asking your health care provider for advice on additional COVID-19 precautions you should take.

Medium and low CDC COVID-19 community levels

When your CDC COVID-19 community level is medium or low, the decision to wear a mask should be based on the following considerations:

  • Personal risk factors and health conditions.
    If you are immunocompromised or at high risk for severe disease from COVID-19, consider wearing a mask indoors and in crowded outdoor settings even if the CDC community level is medium or low. You may also want to ask your health care provider for advice on when to wear a mask and any additional COVID-19 precautions you should take.
  • Risk factors of others around you.
    If you live or frequently interact with someone who is immunocompromised or at a high risk for severe disease from COVID-19, consider wearing a mask around them regardless of the COVID-19 community level.
  • Settings where people at increased risk gather
    People in settings where those at increased risk of severe illness gather should consider wearing masks regardless of the CDC COVID-19 community level, especially if the setting is crowded. Even if the level is medium or low, settings that serve people at increased risk may also want to consider masking policies and other available measures to reduce COVID-19 transmission, such as improving ventilation. Learn more about how to improve airflow, ventilation, circulation, and more at Indoor Air Considerations: COVID-19 and CDC: Ventilation in Buildings.
  • Outbreaks or clusters
    Public health authorities may recommend that you and others around you wear a mask in settings that have an outbreak or cluster (group) of COVID-19 cases.
  • Vaccination status
    If you are not vaccinated, especially if you do not have a history of prior COVID-19 infection, consider wearing a mask in public indoor settings, regardless of the community level.
  • Personal preference
    You may choose to wear a mask at any time based on your personal preference, even if others around you are not wearing masks or the CDC COVID-19 community level in your area is medium or low.

For additional considerations and layers of protection, visit Protect Yourself & Others: COVID-19.

Note: Health care settings like hospitals, clinics, and skilled nursing homes have their own recommendations and requirements for masks. The CDC community level recommendations do not apply in health care settings. CDC is in the process of reviewing recommendations for homeless shelters and correctional facilities to determine how to align current precautions with the CDC community levels. Follow any masking recommendations or requirements for the setting you are in.

Laws or policies may require masks in some settings

Some settings may have specific federal, state, local, or business-level rules about wearing masks, regardless of the CDC COVID-19 community level. For example:

  • Health care settings – including long-term care – may have mask requirements under federal, state, and/or local law.
  • Local authorities (such as a city, town, or county) may establish mask requirements (rules) and those requirements must be followed.
  • Businesses and entities may require masks, and workers and customers may be legally required to follow those rules.

This is not an exhaustive list of potential mask requirements. Be sure you understand your region and industry's legal requirements. Businesses or people that are uncertain about applicable legal requirements should consider seeking legal advice.

Types of masks

  • MDH recommends wearing a high-quality, well-fitting mask to help protect against COVID-19, including variants like Omicron. Examples of high-quality masks include N95 or KN95 masks, which are very good at blocking droplets. Surgical masks (also called disposable masks) have also been shown to be effective.
  • If you do not have a high-quality mask like an N95 or KN95, wear a mask with two or more layers of tightly woven fabric. You can also layer a disposable mask under a cloth mask to give more protection. The cloth mask should press the edges of the disposable mask snugly against your face.
  • Wearing a high-quality mask is even more important if you are immunocompromised or at high risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19.
  • Look for masks with nose wires. They can make it fit better and help reduce gaps or holes.
  • Avoid  face coverings made of thinner, loosely woven, or single-layer fabric such as certain types of masks, scarves, neck gaiters, or bandannas. They are not as good at blocking droplets that come out when speaking, coughing, or sneezing. If you wear a scarf or neck gaiter for warmth, also wear a mask underneath it.
  • Any masks that incorporate a valve that is designed to make it easier to exhale, mesh masks, or masks with openings, holes, visible gaps in the design or material, or vents are NOT sufficient because they allow droplets to be released from the mask.
  • Masks may make it hard for people with certain conditions – such as people who are deaf or hard of hearing – to communicate with others. Please refer to Communication While Wearing Masks, which contains helpful information from the Minnesota Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division of the Department of Human Services about clear masks and communication aides.
  • For more information on recommendations for types of masks, visit CDC: Types of Masks and Respirators.

How to wear a mask

  • Wash your hands before putting your mask on and after taking it off.
  • A mask should cover the nose and mouth completely and fit snugly against your face without gaps. The mask should not be overly tight or restrictive and should feel comfortable to wear.
  • For children 2 years and older, find a mask that is made for children to help ensure proper fit. Children under age 2 should NOT wear a mask.
  • If you wear glasses, find a mask that fits closely over your nose or one that has a nose wire to help keep it from fogging up.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. If you have to touch or adjust your mask often, that means it does not fit you properly and you may need to find a different mask or make adjustments.
  • If you wear a cloth mask, wash it after each time you wear it.
  • If reusing an N95 or KN95, store it in a paper bag. Do not wash an N95 or KN95 between uses. Refer to instructions that came with your mask for information on when it should be replaced.
  • Do not wear a mask that is dirty, damp, or damaged.

Click on the following links for more information and tips on how to select and wear a mask:

Reasonable accommodations

Existing law may require certain businesses and organizations to offer reasonable accommodations to some people – such as a person who cannot wear a mask due to a disability – to allow that person to participate in or benefit from the goods or services they offer.

Businesses and other entities should be aware that:

  • People who have certain disabilities, behavioral needs, or other health, mental health, or developmental conditions may have difficulty wearing a mask or other face covering safely.
  • People who have trouble breathing, are unconscious, or are unable to remove a mask without help should not wear a mask.
  • Children under age 2 should not wear a mask.
  • Certain situations (e.g., swimming or other activities that will soak or submerge a face covering in water) may make masks unsafe.

Minnesotans with disabilities have the right to live free from discrimination. The Minnesota Human Rights Act prohibits disability discrimination in public places, employment, schools, and other areas. If you have a disability that prevents you from wearing a mask and you believe you have been discriminated against because of your disability, report the incident to Minnesota Department of Human Rights: Report Discrimination or call the Discrimination Helpline at 1-833-454-0148.

Updated Thursday, 03-Nov-2022 13:30:48 CDT