COVID-19: Wear a Mask

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Wearing a mask helps stop the spread of COVID-19—science says so!

Protect 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 should I wear a mask?

  • Indoor spaces when you are not at home.
  • Enclosed spaces such as outdoor restaurants or bars, public transportation, and ride-shares.

When do I not 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 may not be needed. If it is not possible to maintain 6 feet of distance from others, or you plan to attend a gathering (even one where physical distancing is planned), a mask is recommended.
  • We understand that not everyone can wear a face mask for medical or safety reasons. People who can wear a mask should do so to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

The way your mask fits is important.

Gaps in your face mask can let air with respiratory droplets and aerosols leak in and out around the edges of the mask. Your mask should fit snuggly against your face and have at least two layers of material. You can check for gaps by feeling for air flow around the top, side, or bottom of your mask.

Improve the way your mask fits and functions by:

  • Choosing a mask with a nose wire and fit it around you face. This prevents air from coming out the top of your mask.
  • Adding layers of material by choosing a cloth mask with multiple layers of fabric, or by wearing a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask. This can help your mask fit more snuggly.

Commonly Asked Questions

Why should I wear a mask?

COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets (both larger droplets and smaller aerosols) that are released when a sick person coughs, sneezes, talks, or breathes. When people breathe in these respiratory droplets the virus can make them sick. Masks help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others. Masks also help reduce the risk of breathing in these particles by the wearer. Because COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact (within 6 feet), wearing a mask is especially important in settings where people are close to each other or where practicing physical distancing is difficult. 

What is a mask?

A mask is material that covers the nose and mouth while being secured to the head or ears with ties, straps, or simply wrapped around the lower face.

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 (e.g., 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 wear a mask?

To wear a mask, keep these things in mind:

  • Before putting on a face mask and whenever you touch or adjust it, clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Put it over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin, making sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask. You can check for gaps by cupping your hands around the outside of the mask and breathing to check for air flow near your eyes or from the sides of the mask.
  • Avoid touching your mask while wearing it.
  • Make sure you can breathe easily.
  • Choose a mask with multiple layers of tightly woven fabric. Or, wear a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask.
  • Do not wear masks that have exhalation valves or vents, or those made of materials that make it hard to breathe (for example, vinyl, plastic).
  • Do not use medical-grade masks (such as respirators and surgical masks) – those should be left for health care workers. A well-fitting mask with sufficient layers is all that is needed.

Keep in mind that a mask does not provide full protection. Therefore, remember to continue to do the following:

  • Clean your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Continue staying at least 6 feet away from other people.
  • Continue following the recommendations for social distancing: avoid crowds, stay at home as much as possible, and just leave for essential tasks (for example, work, grocery shopping, going to the doctor, getting medications).

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:

For additional information, see the CDC's Considerations for Wearing Masks.

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

What to know about asthma and masks during COVID-19

Wearing a face covering is one of the most 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.

Last Revised: April 6, 2021

 The information on this page contains Department of Health Services (DHS) recommendations, some of which may be required based on state or local orders. Please contact your local or tribal health department for more information on COVID-19 related public health orders in your community.