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 mask can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. How well a mask works depends on the materials used and how well it fits.

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.

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.

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
  • 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
  • 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)
  • private indoor workplaces (like offices or warehouses) in all common areas, places where there’s interaction with the public and areas with poor ventilation and areas where people can’t maintain a minimum physical distance of 2 metres (6 feet) from others.
  • common areas of office buildings (like reception areas, elevators and hallways)
  • 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 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 and areas where people can’t maintain a minimum physical distance of 2 metres (6 feet) from others.

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.

Choosing a mask and proper fit

A non-medical mask should:

  • be made of at least 3 layers, including
    • at least 2 layers of tightly woven fabric, like cotton
    • a middle layer of filter-type fabric, like a non-woven polypropylene
  • use materials that are breathable

When choosing a mask, proper fit is very important. 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

To make sure your mask fits close to your face without gaps, you should:

  • adjust ties or ear loops
  • adjust the flexible nose piece
  • wear a well-fitting cloth mask over a disposable mask
  • keep facial hair short, if possible

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

Filters

You can add a filter to a non-medical mask by:

  • adding a filter-type fabric (like a non-woven polypropylene) as a middle layer
  • inserting a disposable filter into a pocket inside the mask (disposable filters should be removed from the mask before washing and changed as directed by the manufacturer)

Proper use

A 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.

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 (you need to be seated while you’re eating or drinking)
  • 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).

Medical masks

Medical masks are recommended for:

  • anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or has COVID-19 symptoms
  • people caring for someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 symptoms
  • people who live in an overcrowded setting with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or has COVID-19 symptoms
  • people who are at higher risk of more severe disease or complications from COVID-19
  • people who are at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 because of their living situation

People who are not healthcare workers but are providing direct support (not necessarily direct care) in congregate settings should wear a medical mask during an outbreak or suspect outbreak.

Healthcare workers have occupational health and safety requirements related to mask use.

If you're not sure of your mask requirements, ask your employer.