Masks

Last revised on November 17, 2021.

The Ontario government website has information on masking and other regulations for Step 3 and beyond the reopening plan. 

So, don’t abandon your mask in your pocket, purse or car glove compartment yet. You will need to bring it with you to wear in stores, museums, malls, and the transit system – including OC Transpo buses, trains, stations, and on ParaTranspo minibuses and taxis. And not abiding by masking requirements will still carry fines. 

On this page: 

About masks and face coverings

The purpose of a mask is to block respiratory droplets travelling in more-or-less a straight line. Three-layered masks (tightly woven cloth inside and outside, and a third middle layer acting as an added line of defense, such as non-woven polypropylene fabric in between) fitting snuggly without gapping will block respiratory droplets reasonably well and help limit the spread of COVID-19.   

Wearing a mask helps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and helps protect people who are around you. Since some people may have the COVID-19 virus and not know it, everyone should wear a mask when they go into an area where they might come into contact with other people. When you wear a mask, you are helping to protect other people. When other people wear a mask, they are helping to protect you. 

Wearing a mask does not replace other protective measures including physical distancing, hand washing, covering your cough or sneeze, not touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, self-monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms and staying home when you are sick.

There are many types of masks you can wear. A mask can be a cloth (non-medical) mask, a disposable (non-medical) mask or a medical mask. A face covering can include a bandana, a scarf or a cloth. A mask should securely cover the nose, mouth and chin and be in contact with the surrounding face without gapping, and can filter respiratory droplets.

The Public Health Agency of Canada now recommends that Canadians choose masks made of at least three layers with one of the layers being a filter to add an extra layer of protection against COVID-19.

When buying or making a mask you should look for a mask that has:  

  • At least three layers: 
    • Two layers of tightly woven material fabric, such as cotton or linenon the inside and outside
    • A filter-type fabric, such as non-woven polypropylene fabricfor the third (middle) layer
  • A secure fitting to cover the nose, mouth and chin. Should be in contact with the face without gapping
  • No seams over the mouth and nose through which air may leak
  • Horizontal pleats to help fit a variety of faces (pleats face downward when wearing) 
  • Re-usable fabric that can be washed after use or when damp and dirty. 

You can continue to wear your well-fitting, two-layer masks, since they work almost as well as three-layer masks, especially to block your respiratory droplets from others. However, as you replace or add to your cloth masks, Ottawa Public Health encourages you to choose three-layer masks.

Disposable (non-medical) masks are single use masks and should be disposed properly in a lined garbage bag after use. 

For health care workers looking for information on personal protective equipment, please refer to our section on Infection Prevention and Control. 

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Current evidence on community mask wearing

Community mask use

There is increasing scientific evidence of the effectiveness of masks to prevent community transmission leading to provincial, national and international public health organizations recommending the wearing of masks when physical distancing cannot be assured.

Evidence shows that mask use supported by social norms and government policies is associated with less mortality from COVID-19.

  • Wearing a mask helps to reduce the spread of COVID-19
  • Benefits are increased when masks are worn properly (securely cover the nose, mouth and chin without gapping)
  • Mask use should be combined with other protective measures, such as being fully vaccinated, physical distancing, hand washing, not touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands and staying home if you are sick

Plastic face shields

Evidence shows that plastic face shields alone are not equivalent to wearing a mask.

For more information on the role of masks in prevention of COVID-19, please visit:

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Resources

Mask up outdoors - Encourage wearing masks outdoors in business areas.

Wearing a mask helps to reduce the spread of COVID-19.  Residents are encouraged to wear a mask in all scenarios when physical distancing of two metres (six feet) is not possible – both indoors and outdoors.    

Wearing a mask is part of being Social Wise. It is one public health measure to help resume economic and social activities while COVID-19 is still in our community.  

Encouraging the wearing of masks in all settings where people congregate can help build consumer confidence in the health and safety measures that local businesses and organizations are implementing to prevent transmission of COVID-19. 

English French

Got your mask? Wallet? Keys? Coming down to [Insert area or business name]? Don't forget to bring your mask. We encourage wearing masks outdoors to help stay #Socialwise when visiting local businesses.

Vous avez votre masque? Votre portefeuille? Vos clés? Vous vous rendez [Insérer le nom ou de l’entreprise]? N’oubliez pas votre masque. Nous encourageons le port du masque à l’extérieur pour aider à rester #SocialAvisé lorsque vous visitez des entreprises locales.

Outdoor masking? You got it!  [Insert area or business name] encourages wearing masks outdoors when you can’t keep two metre distance. Let’s all be #Socialwise and wear a mask and maintain physical distance when visiting local businesses.

Masque à l’extérieur? Bonne idée! [Insérer le nom ou de l’entreprise] encourage le port du masque à l’extérieur lorsqu’il est impossible de garder une distance de 2 m. Soyons tous #SocialAvisés, portons un masque et respectons le 2 m en visitant les entreprises locales.

When posting your own content, please tag Ottawa Public Health and use the hashtag #SocialWise! You can also direct people to the ottawapublichealth.ca/workplaceCOVID19 for more information.

For more information and to access campaign materials: 

Ottawa Public Health
healthsante@ottawa.ca
613-580-6744 
TTY: 613-580-9656, Toll free: 1-866-426-8885

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Be Social Wise!

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) encourages you to go about your daily activities while protecting yourself and others. For more information about how to protect yourself and others during COVID-19, please visit the Be Social Wise webpage.

Other resources

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Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Mask rules and regulations

Are masks mandatory in Ottawa and are there any exemptions?

The Ontario government website has information on masking and other regulations for Step 3 and beyond the reopening plan.   

Who is exempt from wearing a mask?

  • Children under two years of age or children under the age of five years either chronologically or developmentally who refuse to wear a mask and cannot be persuaded to do so by their caregiver.
  • Individuals with medical conditions including breathing or cognitive difficulties or a disability, that prevents them from safely wearing a mask.
  • Anyone who is unable to put on or remove their mask without help.
  • A person who needs to temporarily remove their mask while in the enclosed public space for the purposes of:
    • receiving services that require the removal of their mask
    • actively engaging in an athletic or fitness activity including water-based activities, including lifeguards working at indoor pools
    • consuming food or drink or
    • an emergency or medical purpose
  • A person who is an employee of the Operator of an Enclosed Public Space and:
    • is in an area of the premises that is not designated for public access or 
    • is within or behind a physical barrier (e.g., Plexiglass)

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 keep an open mind 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.

There may be situations where someone who is deaf or hard of hearing may require an employee to remove their mask or face covering to speak to them. We remind anyone removing their mask or face covering to follow safe handling procedures and to keep a distance of two metres or six feet away from others.

Please note - No person should be:

  • Required to provide proof of exemption or
  • Turned away from indoor public spaces, enclosed common areas or designated outdoor spaces if unable to wear a mask
Why are masks mandatory?
As more businesses and public spaces open and people increase their number of contacts and travel, the risk of infections and outbreaks increases. Therefore, in order to continue to slow or stop the spread of infection while continuing with the progress that has been made in reopening our economy and resuming activities, OPH continues to support the use of face masks in indoor public settings.

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Wearing a mask

In what situations should I wear a medical mask?
While non-medical masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19, medical masks and respirators provide better protection. The general public may wear non-medical masks in most situations, but medical masks are recommended if:
  • You have tested positive or have symptoms of COVID-19;
  • You are caring for someone who has tested positive or has symptoms of COVID-19;
  • You are living in overcrowded settings with someone who has tested positive or has symptoms of COVID-19;
  • You are at risk of more severe disease or outcomes from COVID-19; and
  • You are at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 because of your living situation.
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

The Public Health Agency of Canada now recommends three-layer masks. What should I do with my two-layer masks?
You can continue to wear your well-fitting, two-layer masks, since they work almost as well as three-layer masks to block your respiratory droplets from others. However, as you replace or add to your cloth masks, Ottawa Public Health encourages you to choose three-layer masks.
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 fully vaccinated, 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 should I consider when choosing a mask or face covering?
  • As you replace or add to your cloth masks, look for three-layered masks with tightly woven cloth on the inside and outside and a non-woven fabric in between. In the meantime, you can continue to use well-fitting two-layer cloth masks made of tightly woven materials, since they work almost as well to prevent your respiratory droplets from harming others.
  • 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 (spaces between the mask and your face); can be secured with ties or ear loops; and allows for easy breathing. Your mask should fit snugly around your face; however, it should not hurt your face. Cloth masks should be made of cloth that tolerates frequent washing and drying. 
  • You can improve the fit of your mask by adjusting ties, ear loops, flexible nosepieces, mask fitters or braces. Choosing a mask with ties or bands that go around the back of the head may also help provide a better fit. Always ensure to bend the metal tab over the bridge of your nose so that there are no gaps over and beside the nose.
  • Non-medical, cloth masks may not be the best in all situations. See “In what situations should I wear a medical mask?” for more information.

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.
How do I use a mask while wearing glasses/sunglasses?

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. 
How do I avoid fogging my glasses when wearing a mask?

Foggy eyeglasses can be a challenge in many different situations, including when wearing a mask.

Here are some tips to help prevent your glasses from fogging while wearing a mask:

  • Use a well-fitting mask. Make sure the mask fully covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose and against the sides of your face without gapping.
  • Use a mask that has a bendable metal insert, so you can mould it to fit snuggly over the bridge of your nose. This will prevent air from leaking out of the top. Your glasses should rest on top of the mask.
  • Before putting on your mask, wash your glasses with soapy water and shake off the excess. Let them air dry or gently dry off the lenses with a soft tissue before putting them back on. Ensure the mask is placed properly over your nose. Now the lenses should not mist up when the face mask is worn. 
For more information about wearing a mask with glasses or sunglasses please read our FAQ: How do I use a mask while wearing glasses/sunglasses?
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 are no longer in a space identified under the Provincial regulations for Step 3 and beyond the reopening plan.
  • You have difficulty breathing, or
  • You are not able to tolerate it for health reasons

And

  • 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.

Ensure you wash your hands using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after removing your mask. The used mask can be placed in a lined garbage bin if it is not reusable, in a sealable bag for storage, or directly into the washing machine.

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.

It’s too hot, should I wear a mask?

Wearing a mask is important to help reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

  • It is mandatory to wear masks in all indoor public spaces.
  • When outside, you may not need to wear a mask if physical distancing of two metres (six feet) can be maintained.
  • Although wearing masks may be more uncomfortable in hot temperatures, they still work. You may need to change your mask more frequently in hot and humid temperatures, as it may become damp more quickly. 
  • Plan outdoor activities for the coolest times of the day and take breaks in the shade or cool environment if you find wearing a face mask uncomfortable in the heat. 
Should I wear a mask when I exercise?

Provincial masking regulations exempt temporary removal of masks for the purpose of engaging in an athletic or fitness activity. This includes water-based activities, including lifeguards who work at indoor pools.

Exercising without a mask is safer outdoors. If you are exercising outdoors, briefly passing someone on the sidewalk or road is not considered a significant risk for exposure to COVID-19. When exercising outdoors (such as jogging, cycling or skateboarding) here are some ways to stay safer:  

  • Keep two metres (six feet) distance from others or wear a mask if this is not possible
  • Step aside or pass others quickly and courteously on sidewalks 
  • If you are with others, travel in single file to allow others to pass safely 
  • When in single file, spacing needs to increase with speed of movement 
  • If possible, consider using shared paths and sidewalks when it’s less busy. 
For more information on staying active during COVID-19, visit our webpage.  
Do I need to wear a mask if I am travelling?
  • All air passengers need to have a mask which covers their mouth, nose and chin during travel. 
  • People travelling on OC Transpo are required to wear a mask; visit octranspo.com for more details.
  • You must wear a mask when using vehicles for hire, such as taxis, Uber, limousines and company vehicles.
For information on the other modes of travel, please visit: COVID-19 information for travellers (Transport Canada).
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.
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.

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Masks – general 

Masks and children

Children under two years of age or children under the age of five years either chronologically or developmentally who refuse to wear a mask and cannot be persuaded to do so by their caregiver can be exempt from wearing masks. 

Encourage your child to wear a mask by the following: 

  • Explain why 

    • Kids watch, listen and learn. Explaining the importance of mask wearing in simple terms can help them understand why wearing a mask is important. Allow them to ask questions and express their feelings. You may want to start by reading a bit on how to help children cope with stressful public events to give you some guidance. 

  • Give choices 

    • Consider letting your little one(s) choose their mask pattern and/or colour. Kids like to feel independent and being given choices. If you are able, include your child in selecting a cloth mask of their choice. 

  • Include masks in imaginative play 

    • Young children have amazing imaginations. Include a few cloth masks in their playtime and see what they come up with. Having masks present in their environment will let them become more comfortable to the look and feel of masks. 

  • Set an example 

    • When heading out in public, show your kids how you put on your mask and explain why you are doing it – to protect those around you. Be a role model of the behaviours you are hoping to imprint on your youngest. Kids absorb information so quickly and mirror behaviours they see, especially of their care takers. 

How do I make a cloth mask and what type of fabric or cloth do I use? 

Several organizations have proposed guidelines for mask design including what type of fabric or style to use. This is an area of active research and new evidence continues to emerge. At this time, Ottawa Public Health recommends the following materials and design for masks: 

  • For the outside and inside of the mask, use two layers of tightly woven fabric that is breathable. Cotton is the most widely used fabric. It is better if the thread count is higher. For example, it is recommended that a 120-thread count or higher be used. A combination of fabrics can be used such as pillowcases, cotton sheets and high thread count cotton with silk, chiffon, quilters cotton or flannel. The more comfortable fabric should be on the inside, against the face.  
  • Include a third, non-woven, synthetic material as a middle layer to increase protection against COVID-19 by adding to the mask’s ability to trap small infectious particles. Consider wearing a mask that includes such a layer, for example: 
    • Non-woven polypropylene fabric, which can be found as: 
      • A craft fabric 
      • The non-woven fabric that's used to make some reusable shopping bags 
    • A disposable filtering material inserted into a pocket on the mask.
  • Choose fabrics that can withstand multiple washing cycles using hot water. 
  • If possible, use different fabrics or colours for the inside and outside of the mask. This will indicate which side to place over your face. 
  • Masks with pleats fit more face shapes and sizes. 
  • Masks made with a seam down the middle can leak air and may not block droplets as well as other styles of masks. 

A round elastic may fit more comfortably behind the ear than a wide, flat elastic.

Use these resources to make your own cloth mask: 

Are there harms and disadvantages of mask-use by the general public?
Ottawa Public Health continues to monitor any changes that may affect mask-use guidance and issue updates as needed. The agreement in the global scientific community and public health organizations is non-medical face masks worn by the general public can help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Wearing a mask adds to other protective measures including including physical distancing, hand washing, covering your cough or sneeze, not touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, self-monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms and staying home when you are sick. Although there may be certain limitations, current evidence suggests that the benefits of mask use outweigh the disadvantages.
The possible disadvantages of mask use are as follows:
  • Wearing masks for long periods of time may worsen acne or cause skin irritation. It is important to wash your cloth masks with a detergent that is safe for your skin after use to help prevent the potential worsening of pre-existing skin conditions.
  • There is potential for discomfort when wearing a mask for a long period of time. Choose masks made of at least three layers of tightly woven fabric that is breathable. If possible, go outside and take a break from wearing the mask.
  • Difficulty clearly communicating for people who have a hearing impairment and read lips. Please read this FAQ for more information
  • Improper mask disposal can increase litter in public spaces. Non-medical masks that cannot be washed should be disposed of properly in a lined garbage bin. Discarded masks should not be left where other people may come into contact with them.
  • May increase the risk of self-contamination of eyes, nose or mouth due to touching or re-adjusting the face mask with unwashed hands.
  • May cause a false sense of security. This could lead to a lower likelihood of practicing preventive measures such as physical distancing and hand hygiene. Remember the use of a cloth mask alone is not sufficient to provide an adequate level of protection. Remember to be Social Wise.

Some people may have difficulty wearing masks such as:

  • Young children
  • People living with intellectual or physical challenges
  • Individuals with chronic lung disease
  • Individuals who have had facial trauma

We encourage family members or caregivers to teach and help those individuals that are struggling to use masks correctly. There are exemptions to the current provincial-wide masking regulation and can be found in Step 3 and beyond the reopening plan. 

DisadvantagePlease remember
Wearing masks for long periods of time may worsen acne or cause skin irritation. It is important to wash your cloth masks after use with a detergent that is safe for your skin to help prevent the potential worsening of pre-existing skin conditions.
Wearing masks for long periods of time may cause discomfort. Choose masks made of three layers of tightly woven, breathable material (cotton/linen). Cotton or linen masks offer both suitable filtration and comfort.
N95 respirators (medical masks used by healthcare workers) may cause breathing difficulties when used for long periods of time. The prolonged use of cloth masks or disposable masks when properly worn does not cause oxygen deficiency or CO2 intoxication.
Waste management issues increase when masks are disposed of improperly, and cause litter in public spaces. A disposable mask should be disposed of properly in a lined garbage bin after use to lower the risk of contamination and environmental hazards.
May increase the risk of self-contamination due to touching or re-adjusting the mask with unwashed hands. 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 wash your hands. Be COVIDWise.
May cause a false sense of security, leading to a potentially lower likelihood of practicing preventive measures such as physical distancing and hand hygiene. Mask wearing cannot guarantee protection from the virus and should not replace frequent handwashing, avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, practicing physical distancing and staying at home if you are sick.
Young children, people living with intellectual or physical challenges, those with chronic lung disease or those who have had facial trauma may have difficulty wearing a mask. There are exemptions to the current provincial-wide masking regulation which can be found in Step 3 and beyond the reopening plan.We encourage family members or caregivers to teach and assist those individuals that are struggling to use masks correctly.
What type of fabric or cloth do I use?

Several organizations have proposed guidelines for mask design including what type of fabric or style to use. This is an area of active research and new evidence continues to emerge. At this time, Ottawa Public Health recommends the following materials and design for masks: 

  • For the outside and inside of the mask, use two layers of tightly woven fabric that is breathable. Cotton is the most widely used fabric. It is better if the thread count is higher. For example, it is recommended that a 120-thread count or higher be used. A combination of fabrics can be used such as pillowcases, cotton sheets and high thread count cotton with silk, chiffon, quilters cotton or flannel. The more comfortable fabric should be on the inside, against the face.  
  • Include a third, non-woven, synthetic material as a middle layer to increase protection against COVID-19 by adding to the mask’s ability to trap small infectious particles. Consider wearing a mask that includes such a layer, for example: 
    • Non-woven polypropylene fabric, which can be found as: 
      • A craft fabric 
      • The non-woven fabric that's used to make some reusable shopping bags 
    • A disposable filtering material inserted into a pocket on the mask.
  • Choose fabrics that can withstand multiple washing cycles using hot water. 
  • If possible, use different fabrics or colours for the inside and outside of the mask. This will indicate which side to place over your face. 
  • Masks with pleats fit more face shapes and sizes. 
  • Masks made with a seam down the middle can leak air and may not block droplets as well as other styles of masks. 
A round elastic may fit more comfortably behind the ear than a wide, flat elastic.
How do I pick-up a discarded mask?

It is recommended not to handle a mask or face covering belonging to someone else and not to allow other people to handle or touch your mask or face covering.

However, if you choose to pick-up a discarded mask, here are some tips on how to do it safely:

  • Treat all masks as contaminated
  • Pick the mask up by the strap
  • Drop the mask in a lined garbage bin

Regardless of how you pick up a discarded mask, wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer immediately afterwards.

For more information please visit the FAQ on how do I wash, re-use, and discard a cloth mask?
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.
What information do business operators, the public and sighted guides need to consider when in contact with people who are blind or who have low vision?

Measures for physical distancing, including floor markings and directional signage, may not be visible to people who are blind or who have low vision. Staff can help by giving the person verbal directions on where to stand, when a line is moving or when it is their turn to be served or to board a bus or train.

People who are blind or who have low vision may have a sighted guide or a guide dog to assist them with their daily needs, including travelling to stores and appointments. Guide dogs are not trained in physical distancing, so it is recommended to keep a two metres (six feet) distance from the guide dogs as well as their owners. As always, ignore a guide dog when it is working (wearing a vest or harness).

In addition, as many people who are blind or have low vison must physically touch objects for support or to obtain information, ongoing cleaning and disinfection should be performed by businesses. Specific attention should be given to high touch areas/surfaces such as entrance doors reserved for persons with disabilities, handrails on ramps or staircases and accessibility buttons for doors.

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 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. 
I am worried about wearing a mask, what can I do to decrease my worry?

Sometimes, you may feel anxious about wearing a mask as it can make it feel difficult to breathe. It may take time to get used to the feeling of something covering your mouth and nose. As you become more comfortable wearing a mask, that feeling will most likely decrease over time.

Some suggestions you can try:

  • Prior to wearing a mask, you can try mindful breathing, by bringing your thoughts and focus on your breath. Sit comfortably, with your knees bent and your shoulders, head and neck relaxed and place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move as you breathe. Inhale through your nose, the hand below your rib cage should move out. Tighten your stomach muscles, letting them fall inward as you exhale through your mouth. Practise deep breathing for about 15-30 seconds. This may help with worry related to wearing a mask. For additional tips on building resilience, check out our have THAT talk Building Resilience activity guide.
  • Wear your mask around your home, for short periods of time, to get comfortable wearing it.  
  • Try wearing your mask in stages. Example: Begin by wearing it during a short trip to run an errand or to attend an appointment. This may help you see how long you are able to tolerate the mask.
Avoid trips to the grocery store or to run errands at peak times when you may have to wear your mask for a longer period. Remember, you can go outside and take off your mask when it is safe to do so (maintaining physical distance, two meters (6 feet) from others) and take a few deep breaths.

How do I submit a complaint against an individual who is not wearing a mask?

Individuals not wearing a mask as mandated in the Province wide mask regulations may be reported to the City of Ottawa by calling 3-1-1. 

Do I still need to stay two metres (six feet) away from others if I am wearing a mask or face covering?

Yes. Wearing a mask is not an alternative to physical distancing. Every effort should be made to keep a two metre distance even when wearing a mask.

Is using a face covering other than a mask as good as wearing a properly fitted face mask?

A face covering such as a bandana, scarf or cloth would not normally be considered an equal substitute for a properly fitted face mask as it may not provide the same level of defense against respiratory droplets. However, similar to face shields, facing coverings are a “better than nothing” alternative to face masks if a mask is not available. Face coverings may be inferior to face masks at preventing the spread of an infection through droplets and if used, at a minimum should securely fit below the chin and cover the nose and sides of the face without gapping or flapping.

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Plastic face shields and masks

Can I wear a plastic face mask instead of a cloth mask?

A plastic face mask is not a substitute for a filtering mask as it does not filter air; it draws air around it, so it only protects the wearer against the direct ‘splashes’ against the mouth. Respiratory droplets expelled from another person may still be inhaled around the mask. Respiratory droplets expelled by the wearer may escape around the sides of the mask, which therefore provides less protection to others. Soft face masks with clear plastic inserts may make it harder to breathe while also not providing the same filtering as full cloth masks. Stiff plastic masks that are elevated off the face for breathability, as mentioned, pose more of a risk than cloth or medical masks in terms of exposure and inadequate source control for droplets.

Face shields or clear masks are not a replacement for a well-fitted two or three layer filtering medical or cloth mask. Face shields are intended to be used with cloth masks to protect the eyes; a plastic mask over the mouth does not provide adequate source or user protection.

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.  

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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

Ottawa Public Health COVID-19 Telephone Line

  • Monday to Friday, from 8 am to 4:30 pm
  • Translation is available in multiple languages
  • Telephone: 613-580-6744 follow the prompts to the COVID-19 telephone line
  • TTY: 613-580-9656

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 9-1-1.

See someone not respecting COVID-19 rules?

How to access help during COVID-19

  • 211 Ontario can help you find financial and social support during COVID-19
  • Telephone: 2-1-1

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