Wear a mask when needed

Wear a mask when needed

Some countries have advocated for the use of face masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Please follow the local recommendations of public health agencies regarding the use of masks in your region.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon

Table of Contents

  1. Medical Masks
  2. Non-Medical Masks or Face Coverings
  3. Proper use of masks
  4. Other considerations (people with disabilities, exercise, other)
  5. References

In order to make data available for Canadians, people living in the United States, and the rest of the world, we included information from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization. See below for information about masks from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and World Health Organization.

1. Medical Masks
pexels-photo-3992946.jpeg
Photo by CDC on Pexels.com
Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)

Medical masks should be worn by:

  • Medical personnel 
  • People caring for individuals with COVID-19 symptoms
  • Individuals with COVID-19 symptoms
  • Individuals who must isolate at home

Read more here:

  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. COVID-19 medical masks and respirators: Overview. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/covid19-industry/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment/medical-masks-respirators.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Medical masks should be worn by:

  • Healthcare workers and other medical first responders

Read more here: 

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Considerations for Wearing Masks. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover-guidance.html
World Health Organization (WHO)

Medical masks should be worn by:

  • Medical personnel 
  • People caring for individuals with COVID-19 symptoms
  • Individuals who have COVID-19 symptoms or may have COVID-19 symptoms
  • When physical (social) distancing is not possible in areas of community transmission for:
    • Individuals 60 years and older
    • Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions

Read more here:

  1. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Mythbusters https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters
  2. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: When and how to use masks.  https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks
2. Non-medical masks or face coverings
Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)

Non-medical masks or face coverings should be worn by: 

  • People caring for individuals with COVID-19 symptoms and individuals with COVID-19 symptoms if medical masks are unavailable
  • Individuals in quarantine (self-isolation)
  • General public when physical (social) distancing is not possible (i.e. it is not possible to consistently maintain at least 2 metres or 6 feet from others) in public areas (e.g. grocery stores and public transit)
  • Air passengers are required to wear a non-medical mask or face covering when flying into or within Canada

Non-medical masks and face coverings should NOT:

  • Be placed on children under age 2
  • Be placed on anyone who has trouble breathing
  • Be placed on anyone who is unable to remove the mask without assistance
  • Be placed on pets
  • Be made out of non-breathable materials, such as plastic
  • Be made out of materials that can easily fall apart
  • Be secured with inappropriate materials, such as tape
  • Be shared with others
  • Impair vision or your ability to carry out tasks

It is not recommended to use masks with valves or vents.

Non-medical masks and face coverings can become contaminated on the outside, or when touched by your hands. If you do touch your mask/face covering or face, you should immediately wash your hands with water and soap for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Change a cloth mask as soon as it gets damp or soiled

Read more here: 

  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. Non-medical masks and face coverings: About. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/prevention-risks/about-non-medical-masks-face-coverings.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Non-medical masks or face coverings should be worn by: 

  • People caring for individuals with COVID-19 symptoms
  • Individuals with COVID-19 symptoms
  • General public when physical (social) distancing is not possible (i.e. it is not possible to consistently maintain at least 2 metres or 6 feet from others) in areas of community transmission (e.g. grocery stores and public transit), it is recommended to wear a non-medical mask

Masks should NOT be worn by children under the age of 2, individuals with who have trouble breathing, or those who are unable to remove the mask without assistance.

Wash your hands before putting on a mask. Don’t touch the front of the mask; if you do, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer to disinfect​.

Cloth masks should be washed after each use.

It is not recommended to use masks with valves or vents.

Read more here: 

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Considerations for Wearing Masks. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html
World Health Organization (WHO)

Non-medical masks or face coverings should be worn by the general public when physical (social) distancing is not possible (i.e. it is not possible to consistently maintain at least 2 metres or 6 feet from others) in areas of community transmission (e.g. grocery stores and public transit).

Masks should never be shared, and should be stored in a bag or container. 

When using a mask, do not touch the front of the mask, and avoid pulling it down into the mouth or under the chin. 

Masks should not be required for children under 5 years of age. If a circumstance requires the child to wear a mask, they should be supervised and provided assistance. 

Children between the ages of 6-11 can be advised to wear masks with consideration of factors such as:

  • If an outbreak is present or the child is interacting with high-risk individuals
  • The child is able to properly and safely use a mask
  • The child has access to masks and appropriate cleaning and replacement of the masks
  • The child is given instruction and supervision regarding the safe use of masks
  • The potential influence wearing a mask could have on the child’s development, according to their caregivers, teachers and or medical providers

Children over the age of 12 are recommended to wear masks under the same conditions as adults. 

Read more here:

  1. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Mythbusters https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters
  2. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: When and how to use masks. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks
  3. World Health Organization. Q&A: Children and masks related to COVID-19. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/q-a-children-and-masks-related-to-covid-19
mother putting a face mask on her daughter
Photo by August de Richelieu
3. Proper use of masks

Videos: Proper use of non-medical masks

Source: Public Health Agency of Canada

How to wear a non-medical mask or face covering safely:

Source: The Public Health Agency of Canada

How to wear a medical mask safely

Source: World Health Organization
4. Other considerations (people with disabilities, exercise, other)
Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)

Non-medical mask or face covering guidance for schools

  • Currently recommended for children above 10 years of age.
  • Use age-appropriate language to remind individuals wearing masks to avoid touching their mask and to follow preventative measures such as hand hygiene and physical (social) distancing 
  • Non-medical masks should not be worn by those who cannot remove their mask without help, whether due to age, ability or developmental status 
  • Ensure non-medical masks are sized appropriately and worn properly
  • Masks containing exhalation valves are not recommended
  • Change and replace non-medical masks if they become wet or dirty
    • It is recommended that parents/ guardians provide a second clean and dry mask for children to keep in their school bags to replace the initial wet/dirty mask.
  • Ensure non-medical masks are worn safely as they can become an inadvertent hazard (e.g. entangled on playground equipment)
  • It is essential that parents/guardians evaluate each child’s ability to correctly use and care for non-medical masks

Read more here:

  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. COVID-19 Guidance for schools Kindergarten to Grade 12.  https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/health-professionals/guidance-schools-childcare-programs.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Individuals working with or who are deaf/hard of hearing can consider wearing a clear face covering. Other alternatives include: written communication as well as decreasing background noise while communicating with a mask blocking mouth.

Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities can consult their healthcare providers about wearing a mask

Young children who cannot properly wear a mask for long periods of time can wear masks at prioritized times when physical (social) distancing is difficult to maintain. In addition, ensure proper mask size and fit, remind children about mask use, and educate them about the importance of masks. While partaking in certain activities, wearing a mask may be inappropriate, including the following situations:

  • When a mask may become wet (e.g. swimming at beach/pool)
  • High intensity activities where it may be difficult to breathe (e.g. running)
  • When working in a setting where mask use could increase risk of heat-related illness or become a safety hazard

Cloth Face Masks in Schools – General Tips: 

  • Due to insufficient evidence of efficacy, face shields should not be used in place of masks.
  • Label children’s masks with their names to prevent confusion. Mark the top, bottom, front, and back areas of masks to encourage proper mask usage among children. 
  • Have children pick out the material for their face coverings to encourage mask usage. 
  • Have parents and caregivers wear masks as an example for children to follow. 

Read more here: 

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Considerations for Wearing Masks. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover-guidance.html
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cleaning, Disinfection, and Hand Hygiene in Schools. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/clean-disinfect-hygiene.html
World Health Organization (WHO)

Individuals who are exercising should not wear masks, as it may cause difficulty breathing or promote microorganism growth.

It is recommended to wear fabric masks on school grounds.

  • Individuals should follow national or regional guidelines regarding mask and face covering use

Masks should not be mandatory for children with severe cognitive or respiratory conditions, developmental disorders or disabilities. A case by case basis of assessment is necessary to determine if the use of a mask is appropriate. 

A mask is not recommended to be worn while a child is playing, doing physical activities or sports. Rather, physical distancing and hand hygiene are encouraged in these circumstances.

In situations where a mask cannot be worn (ex. mouth visibility is needed), a face shield that covers the entire face can be used. Care should be taken as face shields do not provide the same protection as masks, and injuries can be sustained if they break. 

Read more here:

  1. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: Mythbusters https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters
  2. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: When and how to use masks.  https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks
  3. World Health Organization. Q&A: Schools and COVID-19. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/q-a-schools-and-covid-19
  4. World Health Organization. Q&A: Children and masks related to COVID-19. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/question-and-answers-hub/q-a-detail/q-a-children-and-masks-related-to-covid-19

Disclaimer: The information regarding COVID-19 is changing constantly as more data become available. The information provided in this website is not meant to replace diabetes healthcare team or public health agencies recommendations, and is intended for information purposes only. Please check with your healthcare providers for any deviations from your care plans.


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