Apr 6, 2020, 11:25:08 AM CDT Nov 29, 2023, 1:30:58 PM CST

Do face masks prevent COVID-19?

Learn who should wear a mask and when, plus other advice about masks and COVID-19


One way to help prevent the spread of COVID‑19 is to wear a mask over your nose and mouth. Learn how masks can help prevent the spread of COVID‑19 and see more ways to keep your family safe.

How do face masks protect against the spread of COVID‑19?

Parent helping child with maskCOVID‑19 spreads from person-to-person through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing or talking. A face mask acts as a barrier to help prevent the spread of those respiratory droplets. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a well-fitted face mask over your nose and mouth as one way to prevent the spread of COVID‑19.

Some types of masks may provide more protection than others, but any face mask is better than no mask.

"The main purpose of using a mask is what we call source control," says Carla Garcia Carreno, M.D., Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist at Children's Health℠. "This means that the person who is wearing a mask will prevent spreading respiratory particles into the air and to other people."

Who should wear a face mask – and when?

The CDC recommends that all people ages 2 and older wear a face mask when in public indoor places in areas with a high COVID‑19 community level. You can check your COVID‑19 community level on the CDC website. You may choose to wear a mask more often if you are immunocompromised, at high risk for severe illness or not fully vaccinated.

"Families should choose whether or not to wear a mask based on their local COVID‑19 community level, risk for severe disease and personal comfort level," says Dr. Garcia Carreno. "Parents should also check with their pediatrician for further guidance since they will know your child’s medical history."

You should always wear a mask if you have symptoms of or test positive for COVID‑19 and need to be around others. It’s important to know that guidance may change if cases rise or if a new variant spreads.

How do I properly wear a mask?

Make sure your mask:

  • Completely covers your nose and mouth
  • Fits snugly and securely on your face
  • Includes multiple layers of fabric
  • Is breathable
  • Can be washed and machine dried without changing shapes (for cloth masks)

When removing your mask, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and wash your hands immediately after removal. You should also routinely wash your face mask after use if it's washable.

How to properly wear a mask

Can masks protect you from the flu and other viruses?

Yes, masks may offer some protection against the flu and other viruses. Wearing a mask when you are sick can help prevent virus particles from spreading to others. The CDC recommends that doctors wear masks when caring for people with the flu to help keep them from getting sick. Masks are one of many strategies that help reduce your risk of getting the flu and other viruses.

What are other ways to prevent the spread of COVID‑19?

The best way to prevent COVID‑19 is to get vaccinated. Make sure your family is practicing these everyday precautions to prevent the spread of COVID‑19:

  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Practice proper hand hygiene (see tips for hand washing)
  • Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Put distance between yourself and other people
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and throw away tissue in trash after sneezing

COVID‑19 vaccines are available for everyone ages 6 months and older to prevent the spread of the virus. Taking these precautions are a critical step in preventing the spread of COVID‑19, especially if new variants spread.

Learn more about COVID‑19

Children's Health is committed to remaining a trusted source of health information and care for you and your family. See more resources to keep your family healthy at the Children's Health COVID‑19 hub.

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