Frequently Asked Questions about When to Wear a Mask

With COVID-19, flu, and RSV cases and hospitalizations spiking in many parts of the country, some public health officials are revisiting mask guidance and are again recommending mask wearing, particularly in indoor public spaces.

Data show that high-quality, well-fitting masks are effective at reducing the transmission of COVID-19. Studies also show that high-quality, well-fitting masks are likely effective at reducing the transmission of flu and RSV. Scientists continue to study the use of masks, including what kinds of masks work best and which viruses can be prevented from spreading by wearing masks. 

When making mask recommendations, local public health authorities typically consider transmission rates of COVID-19, flu, and RSV, along with hospitalizations and hospital capacity. The CDC continues to recommend that you should wear a mask indoors if your COVID-19 Community Level is high. If your COVID-19 Community Level is medium, you should consider wearing a mask if you’re at high risk for severe COVID-19.

Regardless of COVID-19 Community Level or current local mask guidance, anyone can wear a mask as an additional precaution to protect themselves and their families from respiratory infections during the holiday season.

Added December 15, 2022 

The CDC COVID-19 Community Level is a measure that takes into consideration COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and hospital capacity within a community. When the level is higher, more prevention measures, like masking, are recommended to keep people healthy and limit strain on the local healthcare system.

CDC’s masking recommendations based on COVID-19 community level are:

  • Low: Mask use is based on personal preference and risk assessment.
  • Medium: People who are at high risk for severe health impacts if infected with COVID-19, or who regularly interact with someone at high risk, should strongly consider wearing a mask in indoor public settings for additional protection from COVID-19.
  • High: People should wear masks in indoor public settings, including in schools and workplaces.

There are also some situations where people should wear a mask, regardless of Community Level—such as if they have symptoms, have tested positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed to COVID-19. (See Quarantine and Isolation).

Depending on where you live, state or local elected officials typically have the authority to create or lift mask requirements and issue mask recommendations. As respiratory illnesses are spiking in many parts of the country, and based on CDC’s COVID-19 Community Level framework, some state and local officials are revisiting their indoor mask guidance. While the COVID-19 Community Level doesn’t currently take into account flu or RSV levels, data show that masks can also be effective in reducing the transmission of flu and RSV. 

Questions that may help you make a decision about whether to wear a mask include:

  • What is your COVID-19 Community Level?
  • What health risks do you and your family members have? For example, are you or anyone in your family an older adult or have an underlying health condition, such as diabetes or heart disease?
  • Do you have young children in your household who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated?
  • Are you up to date on your vaccinations (fully vaccinated and boosted if eligible)?
  • Are other respiratory illnesses circulating at high levels in your community?

Regardless of Community Level or whether your state, county, or city requires masks, you may decide that wearing a mask is the right decision for you.

Updated December 14, 2022 

On April 18, a court ruling voided the federal requirement that people wear masks on public transportation. This has led some airlines, airports, and transit systems to lift their requirement that passengers or employees wear masks, while other airlines and systems are keeping those requirements in place. Check with your airline or local carrier for their current mask policy.

The CDC is still recommending that everyone age 2 and older wear a well-fitting mask or a high filtration mask such as an N95, KN95, and KF94 when indoors on public transportation and transportation hubs.

Whether or not a carrier is requiring mask wearing, individual passengers are recommended to wear a mask—especially when in crowds or poorly ventilated areas, during international travel or long-distance domestic travel, when the COVID-19 Community Level is high, or if you or a family member is at high risk for getting severely ill if infected with  COVID-19. For example, older adults and anyone with an underlying health condition that would make COVID-19 infection more serious, (e.g., diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer) or anyone who has older family members or family members with underlying health issues, should continue to wear a mask as a precaution against becoming infected and spreading the virus.

CDC recommendations on mask-wearing on public transportation are based on the latest scientific data on COVID-19 and current and projected trends in the CDC’s COVID-19 Community Level Framework. For more information about safer travel during the pandemic, including mask-wearing tips and recommendations for post-travel, visit the CDC Domestic and International Travel pages.

Updated May 4, 2022 

In many cases, yes. Regardless of state or local policies, private businesses have the authority to require masks (both for employees and customers) if they choose to. Some school systems may also continue to require students and school personnel to wear masks, and those policies vary by jurisdiction. Regardless of state, local, or school policy, teachers, students, and other individuals can choose to wear masks to safeguard their health.

Added February 11, 2022 

The authority for making mask requirements most often resides at the state and local level. The CDC issues recommendations and guidance to help inform policy decisions made at the local levels. Public health officials, employers, and schools typically consider local transmission rates of COVID-19, flu, and RSV, along with hospitalizations and hospital capacity when issuing mask guidance.

Updated December 15, 2022 

Misinformation Alerts about When to Wear a Mask

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