Guidance for wearing masks

Last updated August 18 2022.

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Young adults in park wearing masks

The state of Colorado is providing free KN95 and surgical masks for members of the public at certain locations throughout the state.

Learn more about where to find free masks


Mask-wearing is an effective tool for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Anyone who wishes to wear a mask to lower their risk of getting COVID-19 is encouraged to do so, especially in areas with higher COVID-19 levels. Wearing a mask is especially important if you are not up to date with your vaccinations
In some specific places, state law requires people to wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep others safe. Learn more about where masks are required by state law

Some businesses may require patrons to wear masks. CDPHE encourages all Coloradans to keep masks with them in public and wear them when asked. We understand that different people may have different risk factors and levels of comfort around using tools like mask-wearing. We encourage all Coloradans to be respectful of others’ choices about how they protect themselves and others.


Wearing a mask after exposure to COVID-19

If you have been around someone who has COVID-19, wear a well-fitted, high-quality mask around other people for 10 full days after exposure. This includes when you are around people who live with you at home. Consider staying apart from people who are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19 until 10 full days have passed since you were exposed.


Wearing a mask after isolation

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19, you should isolate. If you are able to stop isolating after five days, you should avoid high-risk people and settings and wear a mask around others in your home and in public for five more days after that.


What kind of mask should I wear?

The best mask to wear is one that is comfortable, fits you well, and completely covers your nose and mouth. Your mask should fit snugly against the sides of your face. It shouldn’t let air escape through any gaps. 

Different types of masks offer different fits and different levels of filtration. While well-fitting N95 masks provide the highest level of protection from breathing in viral particles, you should only wear this type of mask if you can wear it comfortably. If you have a medical condition that might make it challenging for you to wear an N95 or other high-filtration mask (for example, lung or heart disease), you should discuss the potential benefits and risks with your health care provider. A surgical mask or other type of mask may be a better choice for some people than a high-filtration mask. If an N95 mask is uncomfortable or feels difficult for you to wear, you should choose another kind of mask that you can wear comfortably and consistently.

Respirator masks (N95s, other NIOSH-approved respirator masks, KN95s, KF94s, etc.)

These masks are designed to filter small particles from the air. When properly worn, they provide very good protection from infectious particles of the virus that causes COVID-19. Because they keep you from breathing in viral particles, they can reduce your risk of becoming infected if you are near someone who is infectious with COVID-19. They work best if they form a tight seal around your face without any gaps. You can tighten the ear loops or headbands and adjust the nose wire to make sure you have the best fit. Some people find that using an “ear-saver” mask strap that goes behind the head can make masks with ear loops fit more comfortably.

You should throw away and replace your mask if it gets dirty, wet, or damaged, if it becomes hard to breathe through the mask, or if it no longer forms a tight seal against your face.

Respirator masks come in different models and sizes. You should pick a size and model that fits your face well. If you can’t get a tight seal, you may need to wear a different size or style of mask. Learn how to check the seal of an N95 mask in this instructional video from the CDC. Learn how to check the seal of an KN95 mask with our graphic about how to use a KN95

The state of Colorado is providing free KN95 masks at certain locations throughout the state. Certain retail pharmacies and health centers are also distributing free N95 masks from the national stockpile. You can also buy certified respirator masks from many retail and online stores. However, you should be careful to avoid counterfeit masks. Counterfeit masks may not work well to filter out viral particles. Learn more about how to spot counterfeit masks at CDC’s webpage Counterfeit Respirators / Misrepresentation of NIOSH-Approval

CDC recommends that specially labeled “surgical” N95 respirator masks be reserved for health care workers.

Surgical or procedure masks

These disposable masks have multiple layers of nonwoven fabric. They work best when they are fitted tightly around your face. Wearing a mask brace or a fitted cloth mask over a surgical mask can help get the best fit. The cloth mask should push the edges of the surgical mask against your face. You can also knot the ear loops and tuck in extra fabric to help the mask fit snugly. 

You can buy surgical masks online or at many retail stores. The state of Colorado is also providing free surgical masks at certain locations throughout the state. You should throw away and replace your mask if it gets dirty, wet, or damaged, or if it becomes hard to breathe through the mask.

Cloth masks

Studies show that cloth masks on their own might not protect you as well as respirator masks or surgical masks. However, wearing a cloth mask is much better than not wearing a mask. The best cloth mask to wear is one that has multiple layers of fabric and fits your face well. 

Avoid cloth masks that are loosely woven, only have one layer of fabric, or have an exhalation valve. You can buy cloth masks online or at many retail stores. You should wash your cloth masks with your regular laundry after wearing them. If your mask has holes in it or is otherwise damaged, you should throw it away.

A cloth mask worn over a surgical mask may improve fit and provide better protection than either type of mask by itself.


Tips for wearing and taking care of your mask

Wash your hands before putting on your mask. Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth when putting on and taking off your mask. Hold the mask by the outer surface and ear loops or headbands as much as possible. Avoid touching the inside of the mask. 

Your mask should fit so that there is no need to adjust it or otherwise touch your face frequently. It should fit your face snugly so that unfiltered air cannot escape from any gaps ideally.

If your mask gets dirty, wet, or hard to breathe through, take it off and use another one. Throw the dirty mask away if it is disposable. If it is reusable, wash it with your regular laundry before you wear it again.

Before eating and drinking, wash your hands, then take your mask off by using the ear loops or head straps. Place the mask in a safe place. When you are done eating, wash your hands before putting your mask back on.

To store your mask when you are not using it, carefully fold it so that the inside isn’t touching anything else. You can store your mask in a clean paper bag or other breathable container.


Colorado’s statewide mask laws

Public Health Order 20-38 requires people to wear masks in certain settings, as follows:

  1. Nonmedical congregate settings serving at-risk populations. These include homeless shelters, prisons, jails, community corrections, substance abuse and day treatment programs, and adult day centers and day programs. Masks are required for participants and visitors, and medical grade masks or respirators are required for staff, when COVID-19 levels are medium or high according to CDC’s COVID-19 Community Levels

  2. Health care settings. These include any facility, office, clinic, or other location where medical services are provided, including hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, freestanding emergency departments, urgent care centers, clinics (including medical clinics or services in nonmedical congregate settings), doctors' offices, and non-urgent medical care structures. Masks in health care settings are required when COVID-19 Community Transmission levels are substantial to high according to CDC’s COVID Data Tracker. Patients and visitors can wear any type of mask when masks are required. Staff must wear medical grade masks or respirators. Any staff who are not up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations must wear medical grade masks or respirators at all times, regardless of COVID-19 Community Transmission Levels.

Masks may also be required in these settings during outbreaks, or when otherwise required by local or state public health officials.

Residential health care facility visitors, residents, and staff should continue following the masking and other infection prevention requirements described in Public Health Order 20-20 and the Residential Care Facility Comprehensive Mitigation Guidance.

Health care workers in residential care facilities should contact their employer or refer to the Residential Care Facility Comprehensive Mitigation Guidance for more information about wearing masks at work.

People who are not required by the order to wear a mask include: 

  1. People who are 11 years old and younger. 

  2. People who cannot medically tolerate a face covering. This means a person who has trouble breathing or anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more from CDC about other reasons some people might not be able to wear masks.

  3. People who are hearing impaired or otherwise disabled, or who are communicating with someone who is hearing impaired or otherwise disabled, where the ability to see the mouth is essential to communication.

  4. People who enter a business or receive services and are asked to temporarily remove their mask for identification purposes. 

  5. People who are actively engaged in a public safety role, such as law enforcement officers, firefighters, or emergency medical personnel. 

  6. People who are officiating or participating in a life rite or religious service where the temporary removal of a face covering is necessary to complete or participate in the life rite or religious service.

These orders don’t require people to wear masks outside or in any setting not explicitly referenced in the order.


Masks in schools

Please check with your local school district for local mask requirements.

For more information about masks in schools, see CDPHE’s Practical Guide for Operationalizing CDC’s School Guidance


Printable materials for businesses

Mask required signs | Español

Mask Required in this Building printable sign
Mask Required in this Business printable sign
Please wear a mask in this Business printable sign

Frequently asked questions

  • You do not need a written exemption.
  • You may tell the establishment that you cannot medically tolerate a mask. But please be aware that if you are unvaccinated and you cannot medically tolerate a mask, you should consider limiting any visits to businesses to protect yourself and others. If you need help getting groceries or other necessities, you can call 211 to be connected to local resources that may be able to help you.
  • Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, businesses may offer reasonable accommodations for individuals with medical disabilities that make it so that they cannot wear a mask. This could include offering delivery or call-ahead curbside pickup instead of allowing entry into the building. More information.
    • The CDC recommends businesses post a sign outside that says “Masks Required” and provide a phone number and email address for someone to contact should they be unable to use a mask.
  • Mental health care providers may use their clinical judgment to determine if it is medically or clinically necessary for a patient to remove their mask during an in-person appointment. Mental health care providers must wear masks in areas with medium or high community transmission, or if they are not fully vaccinated, excluding when it is clinically necessary to remove the mask to perform a mental health technique or service.
  • Yes. It is advised to keep a mask with you and wear it when asked out of respect. We want to be courteous, nice to our neighbors, and inspire confidence in public health.
  • Yes. A business may exclude an individual with a disability from entering an establishment or participating in an activity or service if that individual’s presence would result in a direct threat to the health and safety of others. This determination must not be based on generalizations or stereotypes, and must be based on an individual assessment. This does not apply to health-care related facilities and places of public accommodation. For more information, refer to the Guidance to Employers and Places of Public Accommodation Regarding Equal Opportunity Employment and Reasonable Accommodations Due to the Presence of COVID-19.

  • Places of public accommodation should make reasonable efforts to allow unvaccinated individuals with a disability (i.e. breathing issues, facial disfigurement, etc.) that prevent them from wearing a mask to use a place of public accommodation, unless the place of public accommodation can demonstrate that it would cause an undue burden or that it would require any additional expense that would not otherwise be incurred.

  • Reasonable accommodations may include a virtual experience rather than in-person, curbside pickup, outdoor seating rather than indoor, rental equipment to do an activity at home, a room to do an activity alone, or special hours to access goods or services alone. Some businesses, like airlines, may not be able to accommodate an individual who is unable to wear a face covering. In those situations, a business is still not required to allow an individual to enter an establishment without a mask.

  • For more information, see: Civil Rights Guidance for Employers and Places of Public Accommodation Regarding Equal Opportunity Employment and Reasonable Accommodations Due to The Presence of COVID-19, and The ADA and Face Mask Policies.  

  • If you refuse to wear a mask as required in a public health order, you are violating a Colorado law and may be subject to civil or criminal penalties. You may also be in violation of county or municipal ordinances and subject to a ticket and/or fine.
  • If you are asked to leave a venue due to failure to wear a mask, and you refuse, you may be charged with trespassing.
  • Businesses may refuse service to individuals not wearing masks if the business requires masks for entry. If a patron becomes combative or refuses to leave, contact local law enforcement, who can help defuse the situation or intervene if the individual fails to comply.
  • No, a face shield is not an acceptable substitute for a mask. Face shields do not filter viral particles the way masks do. 
  • No. Science shows that wearing a mask won’t lead to decreased oxygen levels. 
  • According to the Mayo Clinic Health System, “for many years, health care providers have worn masks for extended periods of time with no adverse health reactions ... there is no risk of hypoxia, which is lower oxygen levels, in healthy adults. Carbon dioxide will freely diffuse through your mask as you breathe.”
  • A cross-over study showed wearing a three-layer nonmedical face mask was not associated with lowered oxygen levels among older participants doing normal activities.
  • Another study showed mask-wearing had no detrimental effect in exercise performance, blood oxygenation, or tissue oxygenation among healthy individuals undergoing vigorous exercise.