Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): FAQ

Masks are a key measure to suppress transmission and save lives.

Masks should be used as part of a comprehensive ‘Do it all!’ approach including physical distancing, avoiding crowded, closed and close-contact settings, good ventilation, cleaning hands, covering sneezes and coughs, and more.

Depending on the type, masks can be used for either protection of healthy persons or to prevent onward transmission.

Medical masks are recommended for:

  • Health workers in clinical settings. See our guidance for more information on the use of personal protective equipment by health care workers.
  • Anyone who is feeling unwell, including people with mild symptoms, such as muscle aches, slight cough, sore throat or fatigue.
  • Anyone awaiting COVID-19 test results or who has tested positive.
  • People caring for someone who is a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 outside of health facilities.

Medical masks are also recommended for the following groups, because they are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 and dying:

  • People aged 60 or over.
  • People of any age with underlying health conditions, including chronic respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity, immunocompromised patients and diabetes mellitus.

Non-medical, fabric masks can be used by the general public under the age of 60 and who do not have underlying health conditions.

Find out more about masks, including videos on how to use, on our public advice page.

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.

Check for filtration, breathability and fit when choosing a fabric mask. It should be held in place comfortably with little adjustment using elastic bands or ties. There are different mask shapes such as flat-fold or duckbill – find the one that fits closely over your nose, cheeks and chin. When the edges of the mask are not close to the face and shift, such as when speaking, air penetrates through the edges of the mask rather than being filtered through the fabric. Masks with vents or exhalation valves are not advised because they allow unfiltered breath to escape the mask.

Fabric masks should be made of three layers of fabric:

  • Inner layer of absorbent material, such as cotton.
  • Middle layer of non-woven non-absorbent material, such as polypropylene.
  • Outer layer of non-absorbent material, such as polyester or polyester blend.

If purchasing a fabric mask from a store, check to make sure it meets national performance standards.

Watch the video on WHO’s recommended fabric mask materials and composition for more information.

How to put on and wear a fabric mask:

  • Before touching the mask, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • Inspect the mask for tears or holes, do not use a mask that is damaged.
  • Adjust the mask to cover your mouth, nose, and chin, leaving no gaps on the sides.
  • Place the straps behind your head or ears. Do not cross the straps because this can cause gaps on the side of your face.
  • Avoid touching the mask while wearing it. If you touch it, clean your hands.
  • Change your mask if it gets dirty or wet.

How to take off and store a fabric mask:

  • Clean your hands before taking off the mask.
  • Take off the mask by removing it from the ear loops, without touching the front of the mask.
  • If your fabric mask is not dirty or wet and you plan to reuse it, put it in a clean plastic, resealable bag. If you need to use it again, hold the mask at the elastic loops when removing it from the bag. Clean your mask once a day.
  • Clean your hands after removing the mask.

How to clean a fabric mask:

  • Wash fabric masks in soap or detergent and preferably hot water (at least 60 degrees Centigrade/140 degrees Fahrenheit) at least once a day.
  • If it is not possible to wash the mask in hot water, then wash it in soap/detergent and room temperature water, followed by boiling the mask for 1 minute.

General tips:

  • Make sure to clean your hands before touching your mask.
  • Make sure you have your own mask and do not share it with others.
  • Resist the temptation to pull down your mask to your chin or take if off when speaking to other people.
  • Do not store your mask around your arm or wrist or pull it down to rest around your chin or neck. Instead, store it in a clean plastic bag.

Watch our ‘How to wear a fabric mask’ video for a demonstration. 

 

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