COVID-19 Face Mask Do's and Don'ts | Coronavirus | UC Davis Health

COVID-19 face masks: Your questions answered

Updated May 3, 2023

As COVID-19 cases have declined, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its mask recommendations. The agency notes that people can choose N95 or KN95 masks. It adds that N95 masks offer the highest level of protection. But the CDC also makes it clear that whatever the type, the most important thing is to wear a well-fitting mask to prevent infection.

Learn more from a UC Davis Health expert about which mask is the best to protect yourself and others

Depending on your and your family's risk factors, some people may wish to continue wearing masks in high-risk situations. Those situations might include being indoors with those who don't live in your household or while traveling on an air plane, etc. 

Effective April 3, 2023, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) updated its masking guidance to be a recommendation rather than a mandate. This removes the mask requirement for people in health care settings, as well as long-term care settings and adult and senior care facilities.

On Feb. 28, 2023, California's COVID-19 State of Emergency ended. At that time, mask mandates were already lifted in most situations, except for health care settings and long-term and adult care settings.

Learn more about what the end of California's COVID-19 State of Emergency means for you from UC Davis Health experts

As of May 3, 2023, masks are no longer required in areas where patients receive care. However, masks will remain readily available for patients, visitors, or employees who want to wear them. If a patient makes a request for health care providers or care team members to wear masks, they will do so.

As before the COVID-19 pandemic, masking may be required in certain specialty areas and as part of standard and transmission-based precautions.

View UC Davis Health clinic policies for caregivers

View UC Davis Medical Center visitor policy

There is strong evidence that properly worn N95 or KN95 masks are the most protective in terms of blocking the spread of COVID-19. The CDC updated its mask recommendations to include these two masks, adding that N95 masks offer "the highest level of protection." If an N95 mask is not available, a surgical mask covered with a cloth mask can be very effective.

If you’re in an enclosed space where you can’t distance from people, like in an airport or airplane, it's recommended that you wear some form of an N95 respirator. Two examples are N95 and KN95 masks. The N95 is the American standard and has straps that go around your head. The KN95 is the Chinese or Korean standard and has ear loops. The “95” in its name means it filters out 95 percent of microparticles.

Learn about which masks are best to protect against omicron

About 60% or more of KN95s circulating in the U.S. are fake. You should look for a brand name, serial number, and lot number, which are almost always printed on the real ones. In addition, N95s will be printed with the acronym “NIOSH,” which stands for National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health.

Check out more ways to spot a fake N95 or KN95 mask

View the CDC's list of approved masks

Yes. Because of how easily the omicron variant can spread, it's recommended that people upgrade their masks from cloth to surgical masks. Surgical masks are inexpensive and are made of three layers. They should thoroughly cover your nose, mouth and chin.

To minimize contamination from hands, you should try to wear your mask as long as you can throughout the day. It’s recommended that you replace your surgical mask every 24 hours, and whenever it’s visibly soiled or dirty. Between uses, you can keep it inside a clean paper bag.

Learn which masks are best to protect against omicron

It's best to use a medical grade rectangular surgical mask if they are available because these are standardized and known to prevent infection. If you choose to wear a cloth mask, choose one that’s functional rather than fashionable. See how many layers it has: the more layers, the better. Cloth masks that have multiple layers – such as those that have a pocket for a filter – will offer the most protection.

If you hold up a cloth mask to the light, you don’t want to see a lot of light penetrating through. Make sure you cover your nose and chin, adjust the bendable nose piece to fit and tighten the ear loops as needed. If your ear loops are too loose, you can buy adjusters to tighten the loops behind your ears or wrap behind your head.

You should wash and dry your cloth masks regularly – preferably after daily use. So it’s a good idea to have extras on hand while others are in the wash.

Homemade masks don’t prevent transmission but can reduce the quantity and size of COVID-19 droplets you transmit or are you’re exposed to.

Get directions to make low-cost face masks for yourself and your family

Masks with filter ports can increase the spread COVID-19. They’re designed for people working around caustic fumes or chemicals – and they force out the air you’re breathing through the port. Instead of protecting someone from you, they propel your breath, and possibly droplets with the virus, even farther and more forcefully.

N95s with the filter in the middle also do not prevent someone from spreading the virus. They filter air coming in but do let air out.

The majority of KN95 masks available in the U.S. are counterfeit. Double check the CDC website to make sure that any KN95 mask that you plan to use are approved by National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health.

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