Coronavirus (COVID-19): masks

Requirements for wearing a mask. Find out how to choose and wear a non-medical mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Wearing a mask

Wearing a non-medical mask can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. How well a non-medical mask works depends on the materials used, how the mask is made and how well it fits.

A non-medical mask can be homemade or purchased and should:

  • be made of multiple layers, including
    • at least 2 layers of tightly woven fabric, like cotton
    • a third middle layer of filter-type fabric, like a non-woven polypropylene
  • use materials that are breathable

Face shields can’t be worn instead of a non-medical mask but can be worn in addition to a mask. A face shield protects your eyes. Using a face shield doesn’t protect you or other people from infectious respiratory particles that can escape around the face shield.

Mask requirements (when to wear a mask)

Public places

Wearing a non-medical mask is required in most indoor public places. Children under 2 are exempt, as well as children 2 to 4 when their caregiver can't get them to wear a mask. People with a valid medical reason for not wearing a mask are also exempt. Schools, day cares and day camps continue to follow their sector-specific plans.

Public places include:

  • licensed indoor childcare settings, including staff and visitors
  • retail businesses and shopping centres
  • personal services businesses like hair salons, barber shops, spas, nail salons and body art establishments (except during services that require removing a mask)
  • restaurants and liquor licensed (drinking) establishments like bars, wineries, distillery tasting rooms and craft taprooms, including the kitchen and preparatory space and outdoor serviced seating areas like patios (except for holes on the golf course that are licensed and when you're eating or drinking)
  • places of worship and faith gatherings
  • places for cultural or entertainment activities and services (like movie theatres, theatre performances, dance recitals, festivals and concerts)
  • places for sports and fitness, recreational or leisure activities, including fitness establishments like pools, gyms, yoga studios, climbing facilities and indoor tennis facilities (except during an activity where a mask can't be worn)
  • places for events (like conventions, conferences and receptions)
  • municipal and provincial government locations that offer services to the public
  • common areas of tourist accommodations (like lobbies, elevators and hallways)
  • common areas of office buildings (like reception areas, elevators and hallways), excluding private offices
  • common areas and public spaces on university and college campuses (like the library and student union building, but not classrooms, labs, offices or residences)
  • train stations, bus stations, ferry terminals and airports
  • common areas of multi-unit residential buildings (like apartment buildings and condos)
  • Casino Nova Scotia (Halifax and Sydney) and video lottery terminals (VLTs), except when you're eating or drinking
  • public schools (pre-primary to grade 12)

A business or government official can ask you to remove your mask for identification purposes (you can remove it momentarily for this reason).

Public transportation

All passengers and drivers on public transportation are required to wear non-medical masks. Children under 2 are exempt, as well as children 2 to 4 when their caregiver can't get them to wear a mask. People with a valid medical reason for not wearing a mask are also exempt.

Public transportation includes:

  • municipally operated public transit (buses and ferries)
  • school buses and vehicles operated by private schools
  • community transit vehicles (like community operated buses)
  • commercial vehicles like motor coaches, shuttle vans and vehicles providing charters and tours
  • taxis
  • vehicles serving residents and staff at long-term care facilities

Businesses and workplaces

Businesses, organizations and workplaces need to follow the Health Protection Act Order and their sector-specific plans, including any additional mask requirements for areas that are not accessed by the public. They can choose to refuse entry or service to people who are not wearing a non-medical mask, unless they’re exempt from wearing a mask.

Wearing a non-medical mask is required at private indoor workplaces (like offices or warehouses) in all common areas, places where there’s interaction with the public and areas with poor ventilation.

Businesses, organizations and workplaces where masks are required under the Health Protection Act Order are encouraged to post a Face Mask Required Sign (PDF) to let customers and clients know that masks are mandatory.

Exemptions to wearing a mask

Exemptions to wearing a mask include:

  • children under the age of 2
  • children 2 to 4 when their caregiver can't get them to wear a mask
  • anyone with a valid medical reason for not wearing a mask
  • anyone who’s reasonably accommodated by not wearing a mask under the Human Rights Act (PDF)
  • anyone who's unable to remove the mask without assistance
  • anyone who's eating or drinking in a restaurant, liquor licensed (drinking) establishment, food court at a shopping centre or food store, movie theatre or in any other location where food or beverages are being served
  • people in a courtroom, jury room or secured area in a courthouse, or in a room where a legislative administrative tribunal is meeting
  • performer or officiant who is performing activities that require vocalization (like talking or singing) at a faith gathering, wedding, funeral, social event, or arts and culture event

You can remove your mask momentarily for identification purposes.

Medical reasons for not wearing a mask

Wearing a mask helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 and helps protect people who are around you. There are very few medical reasons not to wear a mask. Wearing a mask doesn't worsen chronic lung conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

You should wear a non-medical mask unless you have a medical reason for not wearing a mask (like people with cognitive or developmental disabilities who can't wear a mask). Children under the age of 2 shouldn't wear a mask.

If you have chronic breathing problems or a mental health condition that creates anxiety, you may be able to work on ways to overcome the anxiety (like wearing a mask for short periods of time at home). You can try different types of masks and choose 1 you're comfortable with. You can also talk to a doctor or pharmacist about it.

Children

You may need to help your child get used to wearing a mask (like wearing a mask for short periods of time at home, putting a mask on a stuffed animal and showing your child how they look in their mask).

How to choose or make a mask

Proper fit

A well-fitting mask should:

  • allow for easy breathing
  • fit securely to the head with ties or ear loops
  • maintain its shape after washing and drying
  • be comfortable and not require frequent adjustments
  • be made of tightly woven material fabric (like cotton or linen)
  • be large enough to completely and comfortably cover the nose, mouth and chin without gaps

Masks with exhalation valves are not recommended because they don't protect others from COVID-19 and don't help prevent the spread of the virus.

Learn more: how to make sure your mask fits properly.

Making a mask

You can make a mask by following the federal government's instructions on how to make a homemade mask.

Proper use

A non-medical mask is most effective when it’s worn properly. Uncovering your nose or mouth while wearing a mask:

  • exposes you and others to potentially infectious respiratory particles
  • won’t help prevent the spread of COVID-19

Wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you:

  • adjust your mask
  • put your mask on
  • take your mask off

It's important to keep your mask clean when not in use, or when eating or drinking. Don’t hang the mask from your ears or place it under your chin.

Storing, cleaning and disposing a mask

Store your mask in a clean place until you need to wear it again. When your reusable mask becomes damp or dirty, wash it with hot, soapy water and let it dry completely before wearing it again. You can include a cloth mask with other laundry.

Damaged and disposable masks should be put in a regular garbage bin that’s lined with a plastic bag. When emptying the bin, take care to not touch used masks or tissues with your hands.