Last revised on November 23, 2022

Ottawa Public Health is strongly recommending mask use in all indoor public settings and crowded outdoor settings to help limit transmission, protect the capacity of pediatric care, and reduce risks for severe illness requiring hospitalization.  Ottawa Public Health also supports businesses, workplaces and organizations that encourage and welcome mask wearing.     

Wearing masks indoors and outdoors in crowded spaces, staying up to date on your vaccines, staying home when sick and washing your hands are all behaviours that will help stop the spread of respiratory illnesses. 

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 A mask is required in the following settings:

  • Individuals who have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19 should isolate until symptoms have been improving for 24 hours (or 48 hours if gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea) and you do not have a fever.  
  • You should wear a well-fitting mask in all public settings for a total of 10 days after the start of symptoms or the date of positive test result days. (see webpage:  Isolation instructions for COVID-19)
  • Although isolation requirements have changed for close contacts, household and non-household, should wear a mask for a total of 10 days, which may or may not include isolation (see webpage: People who are contacts of someone who tests positive for COVID-19)

Use of masks

Although masking is no longer mandatory in Ontario,  it is strongly recommended that individuals wear masks in indoor settings, particularly in situations where physical distancing may be difficult or impossible.

  • Some individuals may choose to keep wearing masks in places where they are not required; please be kind and respectful of others’ choices.
  • When attending any gathering, always bring your mask with you. There may be times when others will not be comfortable being around maskless people, or they could be at high-risk, and they may ask you to mask-up.
  • It's important to remember that wearing a mask is something we can all do to help to protect those who remain at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19, and help stop the spread of respiratory illness.

Types of masks and respirators

Types of masks and respirators

Please see below for what you need to know about the different types of masks:  

Cloth Masks

Cloth Masks can be made from a variety of fabrics and many types of cloth masks are available.

Wear cloth masks with:

  • A proper fit over your nose, mouth, and chin to prevent leaks
  • Multiple layers of tightly woven, breathable fabric
  • A nose wire
  • Fabric that blocks light when held up to bright light source

Do NOT wear cloth masks:

  • With gaps around the sides of the face or nose
  • With exhalation valves, vents, or other openings
  • Made of single-layer fabric or those made of thin fabric that don’t block light
  • If they are wet or dirty

Medical Masks

Disposable medical masks are widely available. They are sometimes referred to as surgical masks or medical procedure masks.

Wear medical masks with:

  • A proper fit over your nose, mouth, and chin to prevent leaks
  • Multiple layers of non-woven material
  • A nose wire

Do NOT wear medical masks:

  • With gaps around the sides of the face or nose
  • If the mask is wet or dirty

Ways to have better fit and extra protection with cloth and disposable masks:

  • Wear two masks (disposable mask underneath AND cloth mask on top)
  • Combine either a cloth mask or disposable mask with a fitter or brace
  • Knot and tuck ear loops of a 3-ply mask where they join the edge of the mask
    • For disposable medical masks, fold and tuck the unneeded material under the edges. (For instructions, see the following video: icon)
    • Use masks that attach behind the neck and head with either elastic bands or ties (instead of ear loops)


What to know about NIOSH-approved respirators:

  • The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approves many types of filtering facepiece respirators. The most widely available are N95 respirators. Public Health Ontario (PHO) recommends fit tested N95 respirators (or equivalent) should be used when aerosol-generating medical procedures are performed on patients with suspect or confirmed COVID 19 infections.  When worn consistently and properly, they provide the highest level of protection from particles, including the virus that causes COVID-19. Additionally, they contain your respiratory droplets and particles, so you do not expose others.
  •  They seal tightly to your face when fitted properly.
  • It is important to pick a respirator that fits your face and seals well since not all fit the same.
  • Respirators approved by NIOSH are evaluated against a specific US standard that includes a quality requirement.
  • They filter at least 95% of particles in the air when approved by NIOSH and when you have a proper fit.

Do NOT wear NIOSH-approved respirators

  • If it is hard to breathe while wearing them
  • If they are wet or dirty
  • With other masks or respirators

For more information, please refer to the resource below:

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Frequently asked questions 

How do I properly wear a mask? 

Masks are not all made the same and may fit differently. Find the mask that best fits your face. To properly wear a mask, follow the instructions below:

  • Immediately wash your hands before putting the mask on, before adjusting it, before taking it off and after taking it off. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands. Be careful not to touch the part of the mask that covers your face.
  • Make sure your mask allows for easy breathing and completely and comfortably covers the bridge of the nose; covers your mouth; and fits snugly, without gapping under your chin or against the sides of your face.  
  • Make sure your mask is secured to your head with ties or ear loops without the need to adjust frequently. 
  • If your mask has pleats, ensure that the pleats on the outside are facing down when wearing the mask. 
  • If your mask has a metal strip over the nose, gently mould it over the bridge of your nose to ensure a close fit. 
  • Replace the mask as soon as it becomes damp, dirty, damaged or if it no longer fits after washing and drying.  
  • Do not share your mask with others, even within your own household.
  • Do not wear your mask around your neck, on your forehead, under your nose, only on your nose or chin, hanging from one ear, or on your arm. 

Watch: How to properly wear a mask video

Poster: Safely putting on & taking off your mask

Can my child wear an N95 mask?

Parents and caregivers may have questions about the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approved respirators (such as N95s) for children. Although respirators may be available in smaller sizes, they are typically designed to be used by adults in workplaces, and therefore have not been tested for broad use in children.  

Selecting Masks  

  • Masks and respirators should not be worn by children younger than 2 years (24 months).

  • Choose a well-fitting and comfortable mask or respirator that your child can wear properly. A poorly fitting or uncomfortable mask or respirator might be worn incorrectly or removed often, and that would reduce its benefits.

  • Choose a size that fits over the child’s nose and under the chin but does not impair vision.
  • Follow the user instructions for the mask or respirator. These instructions may show how to make sure the product fits properly.
  • Some types of masks and respirators may feel different if your child is used to wearing a regular cloth or disposable medical masks. 

Is a face shield a good alternative for someone who can't wear a mask?

A face shield would not be considered an equal substitute for a face mask as it does not provide filtering capacity. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) supports the use of face shields as a “better than nothing” alternative to face masks if there is a shortage of non-medical masks or for populations who are not able to properly wear masks, such as individuals with a respiratory condition that prevents them from wearing a mask. The WHO makes note that face shields are inferior to face masks at preventing the spread of an infection through droplets and at a minimum should extend below the chin and cover the sides of the face.  

Can I wear my mask all day?

A cloth or disposable mask can be worn all day as long as it does not become damaged, damp or dirty. Disposable masks are for one time use only and need to be thrown into the garbage after a day’s use.  

Do I need to wear a mask if I am travelling?

While mask requirements for travel have been lifted, Ottawa Public Health strongly recommendyou wear a well-fitted mask to protect yourself and others when travelling, including public transportation.

Can I re-use a disposable mask?

A disposable mask can be re-used during a single day if it:

  • Is not damp, damaged or dirty
  • Has been stored appropriately between uses

At the end of a full day’s wear, however, or at any time that a disposable mask has become damp, dirty or damaged, it should be discarded in a lined garbage bin.

How can you clearly communicate with people who have a hearing impairment and read lips while wearing a mask?

Some people who are deaf or hard of hearing rely on lip reading to help understand verbal messages and masks may create a barrier. Employees should be adaptable and kind when communicating with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, particularly when wearing a mask and let the person suggest their preferred way of communicating. 

Customers and employees can communicate by:

  • Using the written word such as text, pen and paper
  • Using a phone or on an app such as a voice to text app
  • Sharing information through signage and visual tools

There may be situations where someone who is deaf or hard of hearing may require an employee to remove their mask to speak to them. When not wearing a mask remember to physical distance at least two meters (six feet). Store used mask in reusable plastic bag. 

What can I do if my mask feels uncomfortable or tight?

All masks are not made the same and may fit differently. Find a mask that fits the size of your face, covering your nose and mouth without gapping (large spaces between the mask and your face). Your mask should fit snugly around your face; however, it should not hurt your face. Do not wear your mask around your neck, on your forehead, under your nose, only on your nose or chin, hanging from one ear, or on your arm.

Can I wear my mask all day?

cloth or disposable mask can be worn all day as long as it does not become damaged, damp or dirty. Disposable masks are for one time use only and need to be thrown into the garbage after a day’s use. 

When can I take off my mask? 

You can take off your mask if/when: 

  • You have difficulty breathing, or
  • You are not able to tolerate it for health reasons


  • You are safely able to maintain a physical distance of two metres (six feet) or more.

Note: If your mask becomes damp or dirty, you should exchange it for a new one if you are still in a situation where you need to wear a mask.

Wearing masks indoors and outdoors in crowded spaces, staying up to date on your vaccines, staying home when sick and washing your hands are all behaviours that will help stop the spread of respiratory illnesses.

How do I safely take off my mask in public if I am worried or feel like I am having trouble breathing?

If you are feeling anxious or are having trouble breathing because of wearing a mask, go outside and remove your mask when you are at least two metres (six feet) away from other people, so you can continue to practise physical distancing. Ensure you wash your hands using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after removing your mask. Remove your mask by touching only the ear loops or ties. When you are breathing comfortably and feeling calm, you may put the mask back on with clean hands. For further guidance, please refer to the OPH video on how to properly wear and remove a mask.

How do I wash, re-use, and discard a cloth mask?

To wash a cloth mask, follow these steps: 

  • After cleaning your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, remove your mask by pulling the ties or ear loops away from your ears. 
  • If your mask has a removable, single-use filter, make sure to remove and throw out the filter before machine or hand-washing your mask. 
  • For machine washing, put the mask directly into the washing machine. You can wash it with other laundry using a hot water cycle.  
  • If you stored the mask in a bag that is washable, you can wash it with your mask; otherwise, throw the bag out. 
  • For hand washing, use laundry detergent and water as hot as it is safe, then wash, rinse and dry thoroughly. 
  • Clean your hands again with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after handling your mask.

Note: Disposable masks should not be washed.

To discard disposable, damaged or worn out masks, throw them in a lined garbage bin. Do not leave any discarded masks in places where others can come in contact with them, such as shopping carts, public seats, bus stops or on the ground. 

To re-use a mask, remove it from your face with clean hands and fold it in half so that the outer surface is inwards (so that the contaminated outer surface is not contacting anything during storage) and place it in a clean, sealable bag until ready to use it again. Do not leave a mask that has absorbed moisture from your breath in a non-breathable bag or container for more than an hour or so.

Note: Disposable masks should not be used for more than one day.

You may need to take off your glasses before putting on your mask to ensure the mask is placed properly over your nose. Avoid touching your glasses when wearing your mask. If you need to readjust your glasses, ensure you clean your hands using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer immediately before and after touching them. 

  • It is recommended that you take off your glasses prior to taking off your mask. Only take off your glasses and mask when you can clean your hands using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Your glasses can be washed with soap and water to decrease potential transmission of COVID-19. 

Do I need to shave off my beard for my mask to be effective?

No. The purpose of the mask is to block respiratory droplets. A mask with three layers that fits securely over the chin without gapping (compressing the beard as necessary) will block respiratory droplets quite well.

Remember that wearing a mask does not replace other protective measures, such as being up to date and having received all recommended COVID-19 vaccine doses, including any booster dose(s), physical distancing, hand washing and not touching your face with unwashed hands. Keeping the beard clean is also important.

Please note these recommendations do not apply for health-care workers, who need to follow the guidelines from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

What kind of mask can I wear with a hijab, niqab or burqa?

  • A mask must be worn underneath these coverings to ensure the best fit against the face. Make sure the mask fully covers your nose and mouth; fits snugly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose and against the sides of your face without gapping; can be secured with ties or ear loops and allows for easy breathing. 

Note: Wearing a single, layered head covering does not replace a cloth mask. Hijabs, niqabs and burkas are not designed to block respiratory droplets and may not be effective.

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Contact information

Provincial Vaccine Information Line

  • 7 days a week, from 8 am to 8 pm
  • Call if you have questions about Ontario's COVID-19 vaccination program.
  • Service is available in multiple languages.
  • Telephone: 1-888-999-6488
  • TTY: 1-866-797-0007

Provincial Testing and Isolation Information Line

  • 7 days a week from 8 am to 6 pm
  • Call if you have questions related to testing eligibility and isolation guidelines
  • Telephone: 1-888-777-0730

Ottawa Public Health Vaccine Booking Line

  • Monday to Friday, from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm
  • Translation is available in multiple languages
  • Telephone: 613-691-5505

Emergency Services

  • If you are in distress (e.g., significant trouble breathing, chest pain, fainting or have a significant worsening of any chronic disease symptoms), do not go to the Assessment Centre or a COVID-19 Care clinic. Go to the nearest Emergency Department or call 911.

How to access help during COVID-19

  • 211 Ontario can help you find financial and social support during COVID-19
  • Telephone: 211

Related information

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