Masks and Respirators

29 Nov.,2023


Choosing a Mask or Respirator for Different Situations

Masks and respirators (i.e., specialized filtering masks such as “N95s”) can provide different levels of protection depending on the type of mask and how they are used. Loosely woven cloth products provide the least protection, layered finely woven products offer more protection, well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN95s offer even more protection, and well-fitting NIOSH-approved respirators (including N95s) offer the highest level of protection.

Whatever product you choose, it should provide a good fit (i.e., fitting closely on the face without any gaps along the edges or around the nose) and be comfortable enough when worn properly (covering your nose and mouth) so that you can keep it on when you need to. Learn how to improve how well your mask protects you by visiting CDC’s Improve How Your Mask Protects You page.

A respirator has better filtration, and if worn properly the whole time it is in use, can provide a higher level of protection than a cloth or procedural mask. A mask or respirator will be less effective if it fits poorly or if you wear it improperly or take it off frequently. Individuals may consider the situation and other factors when choosing a mask or respirator that offers greater protection.

  • When caring for someone who is sick with COVID-19.
  • If you are at increased risk for severe illness, for example, people who are immunocompromised, older adults, and people with certain underlying medical conditions.
  • When working at a job where you interact with large numbers of the public, especially when not everyone is consistently wearing a mask. For example, bus drivers and grocery store workers.
  • When riding on planes, buses, trains, or other forms of public transportation, especially if it is for a long period of time on crowded conveyances.
  • When physical distancing is not possible or when you are in crowded indoor or outdoor public settings.
  • If you are not up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations.

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