COVID-19: Wear a Mask

Symbol of a mask on blue background over orangeProtect your loved ones, neighbors, and fellow Wisconsinites by wearing a mask. Science shows that wearing a mask over your nose and mouth can help prevent transmission of the respiratory droplets and aerosols that spread COVID-19. Wearing a mask is one way to protect others, as well as yourself.


When you should wear a mask

Everyone should pack a mask when leaving their home. Everyone, even fully vaccinated people, should wear a mask in public, indoor settings in areas with substantial to high community transmission. If you are unvaccinated, wear one in all indoor spaces that are not your home, as well as enclosed or crowded outdoor spaces, such as outdoor restaurants or bars, festivals, sporting events, and concerts.

There are some settings where everyone, even if fully vaccinated, should continue to wear masks:

If you live with or spend time around people who are not yet fully vaccinated, you may choose to wear a mask in all public spaces. This may include being around people at an increased risk for severe COVID-19 disease or children who are not yet able to get vaccinated.

When you don't need to wear a mask

  • Inside your home around your household members.
  • Outdoors where it is possible to maintain 6 feet of distance from others. For outdoor activities that are independent or only with members of your household, masks are not needed.
  • In areas of low or moderate community transmission when you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and masks are not required by local rules and regulations.
  • If you have medical or safety reasons that prohibit mask wearing (for example, children under 2 years old and people who cannot safely wear a mask for reasons related to a disability).

How to wear a mask

Your mask should cover both your mouth and nose, fit snugly against your face, and have at least two layers of material. Gaps in your face mask can let air with respiratory droplets and aerosols leak in and out around the edges of the mask. You can check for gaps by feeling for airflow around the top, side, or bottom of your mask. To prevent air flow, you can choose a mask with a nose wire or layer a disposable mask underneath a cloth one. Learn how to improve the way your mask fits and functions.

Frequently asked questions

How effective are masks at preventing the spread of the virus?

Masks are recommended because they form a barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and being inhaled or deposited in the nose or mouth of other people. Respiratory droplets are released when someone coughs, sneezes, talks, or breathes, which is why consistently wearing a mask is important.

Studies show that a well-fitted, multi-layer face mask can block the majority of respiratory droplets from escaping into the air and also reduce the wearers’ exposure to infectious droplets by effectively filtering them out of the air they breathe. Overall, the use of face masks have been shown to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection by 70% or more in a variety of settings (for example, homes, workplaces, airplanes). However, masks are not a replacement for physical distancing and are most effective when combined with other preventive measures.

How should I clean my mask?

It’s a good idea to wash your mask frequently, ideally after each use, or at least daily. Use regular laundry detergent and a warm or hot water setting. Dry on warm or high heat, or lay flat and allow to air dry completely in sunlight, if possible. Do not wear when damp.

How can I get a mask?

If you need a mask but do not have access to one, you may be able to make your own by sewing one. There is no standard design for homemade masks, but there are many patterns and instructions online from hospitals and other organizations.

If making your own mask, keep the following in mind:

  1. Build a mask that tightly encloses the area around the nose and mouth, from the bridge of the nose down to the chin, and extending onto the cheek beyond the corners of the mouth, so no gaps occur when talking or moving.
  2. Use material that is tightly woven but breathable. Possibly double-layer the fabric.
    • Masks must be made from washable fabric.
    • Choose a fabric that can handle high temperatures and bleach without shrinking or otherwise deforming.
  3. The mask should be tolerant of expected amounts of moisture from breathing.
  4. Suggested materials: Outer layer tea cloth, inner layer of a microfleece to wick away moisture, and an inner tea cloth layer. Use an accordion fold to mimic a hospital mask as much as possible and use a fat woven shoelace type material to bind the sides (such as quilt binding). For straps, use elastic straps that loop behind the ears.

Online instructions and patterns:

Is it safe for people with asthma to wear a mask?

What to know about asthma and masks during COVID-19

In addition to getting vaccinated, wearing a mask is an effective ways to fight the spread of COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In order to avoid contracting the coronavirus, the CDC, national lung organizations, and asthma doctors across the country agree that it’s especially important for people with asthma and other lung diseases to wear a mask or face covering, stay 6 feet away from people who don’t live with them, and frequently wash their hands. This is because as they might be at an increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19.

Here are answers to common questions about people with asthma wearing a mask:

Are masks safe for people with asthma?

The CDC, World Health Organization, asthma doctors and other national health organizations recommend that people with asthma wear a mask when they can’t keep a safe distance from other people. They also agree that masks are safe for people with controlled asthma.

What kind of mask should I wear?

  • A traditional cloth mask with two or more layers of breathable fabric or a surgical mask are the best choices.
  • Make sure it's comfortable, covers your nose and mouth, tucks under your chin, and fits snugly against the sides of your face.
  • Try different mask types if one kind is uncomfortable.
  • Choose a latex-free mask if you have a latex allergy.

What kind of mask should I avoid?

  • Avoid a tight-fitting mask like N-95. Ask your doctor if you need a special mask.
  • Don't use masks with valves because air droplets can escape through the valves, potentially exposing people around you to the coronavirus.

Will my asthma symptoms worsen while wearing a mask?

People over age 2 with asthma should be able to breathe through cloth or standard medical masks without trouble. There is enough airflow from gaps around the mask and through it that provide plenty of oxygen.

What if I experience difficulty breathing while wearing a mask?

  • If a person with asthma has impaired breathing or other challenges while wearing a mask, it could be a sign of poorly controlled asthma. Follow your asthma management plan to control symptoms. If problems persist, contact your doctor right away.
  • Try a different mask style to see if it is more tolerable.
  • Talk more slowly, which can improve air flow.
  • If you’re outside and at least 6 feet away from other people, take a break from your mask, but keep it accessible.

Can I wear a face shield instead of a mask?

Wearing a face shield alone doesn’t limit the spread of air droplets as effectively as face coverings. Consider wearing a face shield with your mask if you cannot keep at least 6 feet away from other people.

Should I wear a mask during exercise?

  • Exercising while wearing a mask should not trigger an asthma attack if your asthma is under control.
  • When exercising outside, keep at least 6 feet away from others.
  • During hot or humid weather, stay in air conditioning, or exercise outdoors early in the morning or in the evening when temperatures are lower.

What can I do if my job requires wearing a mask?

You may be required to wear a mask or face covering as part of your job. If you have trouble breathing while wearing a mask, talk to your employer about other strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19. People with asthma are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and can ask for reasonable accommodations like working from home, taking more frequent breaks, or wearing a face shield.

What are some other benefits of wearing a mask?

Wearing a mask can also help block asthma triggers like common cold viruses, flu virus, cold air, pollen, and animal dander.

Where can I get more information?

*Adapted from materials developed by the Michigan Department of Health & Human Resources’ Asthma Program.

Resources on wearing masks

Access materials and resources on wearing a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

Last Revised: September 2, 2021

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