Masks are a key measure to suppress transmission and save lives. Masks reduce potential exposure risk from an infected person whether they have symptoms or not. People wearing masks are protected from getting infected. Masks also prevent onward transmission when worn by a person who is infected.
Masks should be used as part of a comprehensive ‘Do it all!’ approach including: physical distancing, avoiding crowded, closed and close-contact settings, improving ventilation, cleaning hands, covering sneezes and coughs, and more.
Find out more on our main public advice page
Medical masks are recommended for the following groups:
When they cannot guarantee a distance of at least 1 metre from others, medical masks are also recommended for the following groups, as they are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 and dying:
Non-medical, fabric masks are advised for use by the general public when physical distancing cannot be maintained, as part of a comprehensive ‘Do it all!’ approach, including improving ventilation; cleaning hands; covering sneezes and coughs, and more.
Find out more on our main public advice page.
Within wider environments where the virus is spreading, masks should be worn by the general public in settings where it is not possible to maintain at least 1 meter from others. Examples of these settings include indoor locations that are crowded and have poor ventilation, public transport and places of high population density – among others.
In enclosed settings, especially where there is poor ventilation, it is also very important to increase the rate of air change, reduce recirculation of air and increase the use of outdoor air. WHO has published Q&As on ventilation and air conditioning for both the general public and people who manage public spaces and buildings.
How to put on and wear a fabric mask:
How to take off and store a fabric mask:
How to clean a fabric mask:
Watch our ‘How to wear a fabric mask’ video for a demonstration.
How to put on and take off a medical mask:
How to take off a medical mask:
Fabric masks should be secured with elastic loops or ties, include multiple layers, be washable and reusable.
They should ideally be made of three layers of fabric.
Watch our ‘WHO’s recommended fabric mask materials and composition’ video for more information.
Medical masks (also known as surgical masks)
Respirators (also known as filtering facepiece respirators - FFP) are available at different performance levels such as FFP2, FFP3, N95, N99
Respirator masks are designed to protect healthcare workers who provide care to COVID-19 patients in settings and areas where aerosol generating procedures are undertaken. Healthcare workers should be fit tested before using a respirator to ensure that they are wearing the correct size.
No, WHO does not recommend the use of masks with exhalation valves. These masks are intended for industrial workers to prevent dust and particles from being breathed in as the valve closes on inhale. However, the valve opens on exhale making it easier to breathe but also allowing any virus to funnel through the valve opening, making the mask ineffective at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
No, WHO does not recommend the general use of gloves by people in the community. Instead, in public places, such as supermarkets or public/private buildings, WHO recommends the installation of public hand hygiene stations at the entrance and exit, so people can easily clean their hands.
By widely improving hand hygiene practices, countries can help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus and other infections.
Health workers are the most likely to be exposed to COVID-19 because they are in close contact with patients with suspected, probable or confirmed COVID-19.
Where COVID-19 is spreading, health workers and caregivers should wear a medical mask in all clinical areas of any medical facility. Masks should be worn throughout their shifts, apart from when eating, drinking or needing to change the mask for specific reasons:
This means that in areas where there are patients – any patients – WHO recommends that workers in the health facility wear a medical mask, even if physical distancing can be maintained.
Respirator masks are recommended for use where aerosol generating procedures are in place for a suspect/confirmed COVID-19 patient. In these settings, WHO recommends the use of airborne and contact precautions.
As there are reports of health workers being infected with COVID-19 outside of health facilities, it is critical that health workers, as all people, follow the guidance to protect themselves from infection when outside of a health facility.