COVID-19 and Wearing Masks

7 Tools for Protection Against COVID-19

COVID-19 spreads mainly through exposure with someone who is infected. People who are infected but do not show symptoms can also spread the virus to others. The best ways to prevent illness and death are to get vaccinated and avoid being exposed to the virus.

  • Whether or not you’re vaccinated, you're still required to wear a mask:
    • If a healthcare setting, business, private school, camp, or other entity requires it
    • In public K-12 schools or institutes of higher education as required by the town, city, or school administration
  • RIDOH recommends wearing a mask indoors near anyone you don’t live with if Rhode Island becomes a high-risk area.
  • If you choose to wear a mask, make sure it’s at least two layers thick and fits snugly but comfortably over your nose, mouth, and chin without any gaps.

Wear a High-Quality Mask

To protect yourself and others from COVID-19, wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear as often as you can. RIDOH recommends wearing a high-quality, well-fitting mask such as an N-95, a KN-95, a KF-94, or a surgical mask, when possible. 

Cloth or fabric masks and masks that don’t fit well let more of the droplets you breathe pass in and out. COVID-19 spreads through these droplets, so using a high-quality mask that fits well better prevents the spread of COVID-19. The virus that causes COVID-19 has changed. It’s more contagious, so a high-quality mask offers better protection for you and those near you.

Masks are made to help keep droplets and particles you breathe, cough, or sneeze from reaching others. If your mask fits closely to your face, it can also help protect you from particles spread by others, including the virus that causes COVID-19.

Respirators, such as an N-95, a KN-95, a KF-94, are made to fit closely to your face and filter out particles you breathe, including the virus that causes COVID-19. They can also help keep droplets and particles you breathe, cough, or sneeze from reaching others.

Masks and respirators (specialized filtering masks such as N-95s) can provide different levels of protection based on the type of mask and how you use them.

  • Loosely woven cloth masks offer the least protection.
  • Masks made of layered, finely woven products offer more protection.
  • Well-fitting disposable surgical masks and KN-95s offer even more protection.
  • Well-fitting respirators approved by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, such as N-95s, offer the most protection.

Whatever you choose, it should fit snugly but comfortably over your nose, mouth, and chin without any gaps so you can keep it on whenever you need to.

A respirator has better filtration, so offers better protection than a cloth or surgical mask if you wear it the right way the whole time you wear it. A mask or respirator is less effective if it fits poorly, if you wear it the wrong way, or if you take it off a lot.

Consider wearing a respirator in certain situations and when certain people need or want greater protection, such as:

When choosing a mask, check how well it fits. Gaps can let air with droplets leak in and out around the edges of the mask. Choosing the wrong size or type of mask or wearing a mask over facial hair can cause gaps.

It’s important to check that the mask fits snugly over your nose, mouth, and chin. Check for gaps by cupping your hands around the outside edges of the mask to feel for air flow when you breathe out. Make sure no air is flowing from the area near your eyes or from the sides of the mask.

If the mask has a good fit, you will feel warm air come through the front of the mask and may be able to see the mask material move in and out with each breath.

Certain groups of people may find it difficult to correctly and regularly wear a mask, including some children older than age two and people of any age with certain disabilities. They may be sensitive to having material on the face, may have trouble understanding why wearing a mask is protective (such as those with an intellectual disability), or have challenges controlling behavior.

When deciding if children and people with certain disabilities should wear a mask, assess their ability to:

  • Wear a mask correctly
  • Avoid frequently touching the mask and their face
  • Limit sucking, drooling, or having excess saliva on the mask
  • Remove the mask without help

For people who cannot wear or safely wear a mask because of a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.), consider reasonable accommodation for workers who are not fully vaccinated, who are unable to wear a mask, or who have difficulty wearing certain types of masks because of a disability.

If you are caring for children and people with certain disabilities who may need help with wearing masks, you should:

  • Ask your healthcare provider for advice to help the person you are caring for to wear a mask. Also ask for other ways to help reduce their risk of catching and spreading COVID-19.
  • Ensure proper mask size and fit.
  • Remove their mask before sleeping, napping, when they may fall asleep (such as in a car seat or stroller), and in situations when continual supervision is not possible.
  • Consider prioritizing wearing a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, particularly when indoors. Masks may not be necessary when you and the person you are caring for are outside and away from others, or with other people who live in the same household. But some localities may have mask mandates while out in public. You should always follow these mandates.

Masks should not be worn by:

  • Children under 2 years
  • A person with a disability who cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask, for reasons related to the disability
  • A person for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health, safety, or job duty as determined by the workplace risk assessment

People who are deaf or hard of hearing and those who will interact with people who are hearing impaired

If you interact with people who rely on reading lips, you may have difficulty communicating while wearing a mask.

  • Consider wearing a clear mask or a cloth mask with a clear panel.
    • Generally, vinyl and non-breathable materials are not recommended for masks. For ease of lip-reading, this is an exception to that general guidance.
  • If you are not able to get a clear mask, consider using written communication, closed captioning, or decreasing background noise to make communication possible while wearing a mask that blocks lips.

People with certain underlying medical conditions

Most people with underlying medical conditions can and should wear masks.

  • If you have respiratory conditions and are concerned about wearing a mask safely, talk with your healthcare provider the benefits and potential risks of wearing a mask.
  • If you have asthma, you can wear a mask. Talk with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about wearing a mask.

Wear the right mask

images of recommended and not recommended masks

Wear a mask that protects you and your household.

Taking care of your masks

Illustration of people wearing masks

Masks save lives

A mask should not be a sign of weakness. A mask should not be a political statement. A mask should not be another way to divide us. A mask is just a mask and masks save lives. Wear a mask and keep your distance.