Guidance for wearing masks

Last updated June 04, 2021.

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People in shop wear masks and distance

Mask-wearing and vaccination are the two most important tools Coloradans can use to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and bring us closer to the end of the pandemic. Now that all Coloradans age 12 and older have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, masks are only required in certain places for people who are not fully vaccinated. Fully vaccinated people can go without masks in public indoor spaces unless the setting requires otherwise. 

Public Health Order 20-38 requires unvaccinated people to wear masks in specific settings, including schools, child care centers, medical facilities, prisons, and jails. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) encourages people who are not fully vaccinated to wear masks in all other public indoor spaces to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Local communities and businesses may have additional mask restrictions. CDPHE encourages all Coloradans to keep masks with them in public and wear them if asked out of respect.

Everyone age 2 and older must still wear masks on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States, and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations. This is required by federal law for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
 

Fast facts

The public health order requires people in Colorado who are 12 years and older to wear a mask over their noses and mouths in the following settings:

  1. Unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated students, staff, and visitors to preschool through grade 12 schools (including extracurricular activities) and child care centers and services, including camps, except while participating in outdoor activities
  2. Unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated staff at Colorado Division of Motor Vehicle offices. 
  3. Unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated residents, staff, and visitors to prisons.
  4. Unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated residents, staff, and visitors to jails.
  5. Unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated patients, visitors, and personnel in emergency medical and other health care settings (including hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, urgent care centers, clinics, doctors’ offices, and non-urgent care medical structures).

Fully vaccinated people can go without masks in public indoor spaces unless the setting requires otherwise.

Unvaccinated people are encouraged to continue wearing masks in all public indoor spaces.

People who are not required by the order to wear a mask, even if unvaccinated, include:

  • People who are 11 years old and younger.
  • People who cannot medically tolerate a face covering.
  • Children younger than 2 years old should NOT wear masks.

Find step-by-step instructions for making homemade masks at the BBC’s website.

Masks should:

  • Be clean and in good repair.
  • Fit snugly, but comfortably against the side of the face.
  • Be secure.
  • Include multiple layers of fabric.
  • Allow for breathing without restriction.
  • Be able to be laundered and machine dried (if reusable).
  • Be on the wearer's face.
  • Be laundered on a daily basis (if reusable) or thrown away after use (if disposable).

Masks should not:

  • Have anything hanging off the facial covering that would create a food safety hazard.
  • Have holes or tears. 
  • Be shared with others.

Mask Required in this Business printable sign
Printable materials for businesses

Mask required signs | Español

Other tips:
  • Wash your hands before and after putting a mask in place.

  • Do not touch the mask again until you remove it.

  • For better protection, you can wear a cloth mask with multiple layers, or you can wear a disposable mask underneath a cloth mask. The second mask should push the edges of the inner mask against your face.

  • Do not wear two disposable masks at the same time. Disposable masks are not designed to fit tightly and wearing more than one will not improve fit.

  • There is no need to combine a KN95 mask with another mask in most non-healthcare settings. Only use one KN95 mask at a time.

  • Masks should be positioned so that there is no need to adjust or otherwise touch the face frequently.

  • If your mask becomes soiled or hard to breathe through, you should remove and not wear again until laundered.

  • Remove your mask to eat and drink and if it is still in good repair, you may continue to use it.

  • Cloth masks should be carefully folded so that the outer surface is held inward and against itself to reduce contact with the outer surface during storage.  The folded mask can be stored between uses in a clean sealable paper bag or breathable container.  Store your mask with your personal items.

About the public health order

Questions & answers about the mask order (PDF)

Includes questions and answers about masks in schools.

  • Public Health Order 20-38 requires people in Colorado age 12 and older to wear a mask over their noses and mouths in the following settings:
    • Unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated students, staff, and visitors to preschool through grade 12 schools (including extracurricular activities) and child care centers and services, including camps, except while participating in outdoor activities.
    • Unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated staff at Colorado Division of Motor Vehicle offices. 
    • Unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated residents, staff, and visitors to prisons.
    • Unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated residents, staff, and visitors to jails.
    • Unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated patients, visitors, and personnel in emergency medical and other health care settings (including hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, urgent care centers, clinics, doctors’ offices, and non-urgent care medical structures).
  • Unvaccinated people are encouraged to continue wearing masks in all other public indoor spaces.
  • The statewide mask order does not require masks outside. Local communities may have additional mask restrictions. Check local ordinances for more information.
  • Additionally, the statewide mask order does not require people to wear a mask if they are:
    • Fully vaccinated.
    • Hearing-impaired or otherwise disabled or who are communicating with someone who is hearing-impaired or otherwise disabled and where the ability to see the mouth is essential to communication.
    • Seated at a food service establishment.
    • Entering a business or receiving services and are asked to temporarily remove a mask for identification purposes.
    • Individuals who are actively engaged in a public safety role, such as law enforcement officers, firefighters, or emergency medical personnel.
    • Officiating or participating in a life rite or religious service where the temporary removal of a mask is necessary to complete or participate in the life rite or religious service.
  • Local communities may have additional mask restrictions.

  • No, the mask order does not apply to anyone’s personal residence. However, guidance from the CDC advises limiting the number of guests, keeping physical distance, and wearing masks when socializing in your home with people outside your household if you have not been vaccinated. 

 

  • Yes, public health orders have the force of law. People who do not comply with the order may be subject to civil or criminal penalties.

  • Children 11 years old and younger are not required by the order to wear masks because the evidence so far has shown that children in this age group are less likely to spread COVID-19 than older children and adults. However, families may take additional precautions and encourage children age 2 and older to wear masks indoors around other unvaccinated people.

  • Essentially, 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 the CDC about other reasons face coverings may not be possible in every situation or for some people. 

  • 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 can’t 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 judgement 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 at all times, 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 places of public accommodation.
  • 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 during Safer at Home and in the Vast, Great Outdoors,   Guidance to 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

  • Yes. The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) does not apply to businesses like retail stores and restaurants because these businesses do not engage in any form of health care activity. It is not a violation of any federal or state law for a business to ask customers about their vaccination status. Customers may voluntarily share this information with a business if they choose to do so. A business may require mask-wearing if a customer chooses not to share their vaccination status.
  • The state public health department, which maintains the Colorado Immunization Information System (CIIS), does not share a person’s protected health information, such as their COVID-19 vaccination status, with any business. Individuals may choose whether to share their vaccination status with others.

  • You may show the vaccination card you received at your vaccine appointment, a picture of your vaccination card on your cell phone, or a copy of your immunization records.

  • Coloradans are encouraged to handle their vaccine cards with care. If a vaccine card gets lost or destroyed, you can contact the provider where you received your vaccine to ask for your immunization record.
  • If you received your vaccine in Colorado, you can also request complete immunization records for yourself or your child by reaching out to the Colorado Immunization Information System (CIIS) Help Desk at 303-692-2437. Because CIIS records are confidential medical information, the state requires a notarized Request to Release Immunization Record form, along with a clear copy of a verifiable form of identification.

  • People are considered fully vaccinated: 
    • 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, like the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. 
    • 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, like the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine.

  • If you have a condition or are taking medications that weaken your immune system, you may NOT be fully protected even if you are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. Talk to your health care provider. Even after vaccination, you may need to continue taking precautions to protect yourself, like wearing a mask and keeping distance from others.

  • The Executive Order does not require you to wear a mask outdoors. 
  • Unvaccinated people are encouraged to wear a mask when interacting with people outside their household, inside or outside.

  • Yes. Some people may choose to be more cautious until the pandemic is over. All Coloradans should feel comfortable making the right choices for themselves and weigh their own comfort and risk.

At school

  • We encourage masks over the nose and mouth for students 2 to 11 years old, including during in-person instruction (including sitting at desks) and extracurricular activities, unless the student has a medical intolerance, disability, or education reason for not wearing a mask. However, mask-wearing for children age 2 to 11 is not required.

  • Fully vaccinated students, staff, and visitors to schools are not required by the public health order to wear masks.
  • Staff and students do not need to wear masks while eating, but they should continue to social distance. 
  • Students ages 2-11: The order does not require masks for this age group. If local orders require masks for this age group, check the local order for clarification on requirements in educational settings. 
  • Students ages 12 and older: A mask is not required while outside for recess or exercise. 
  • Masks may be temporarily removed if they interfere with special educational needs, such as hearing impaired students and for English learners.  
  • Masks should be removed during naptime.

  • Parents are encouraged to work with their school health services team or COVID-19 school coordinator to discuss their child’s medical needs.

  • The requirement to wear a mask does not apply to individuals who cannot medically tolerate a mask. In general, this means a person who has trouble breathing or who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance. Parents are encouraged to work directly with their child’s medical provider to determine the health needs of their child in the school setting. 

  • The process used to verify “medical intolerance” is determined at the school or school district level. Parents are encouraged to work with their school health services team or COVID-19 school coordinator to discuss their child’s medical needs. 

  • Schools are encouraged to establish a process for communicating essential information to school staff while maintaining confidentiality. 

Enforcement

 

  • If you refuse to wear a mask as required in the 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 store 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.

Local governments

  • Yes, counties and municipalities can adopt stricter standards than the statewide order.

Your local public health agency is a good source of information for orders within your county.

Mask basics

  • You should wear something that covers your nose and mouth --  a cloth face covering or a disposable mask.

  • Make sure your mask fits snugly against your face. Gaps can let air with respiratory droplets leak in and out around the edges of the mask.

  • Masks should be made up of multiple layers of fabric or material. A mask might be too thin or porous if you can easily feel your breath in front of you (or can easily blow out a candle) while wearing it, or if you can easily see through it when stretched. 

  • Masks with exhalation vents should not be used, as infectious droplets can be exhaled through the vent.

  • A nose wire -- a metal strip along the top of the mask -- can help a mask fit snugly and prevent any gaps. A mask fitter or brace can also prevent air from leaking around the edges of the mask.

  • You can check for gaps by cupping your hands around the outside edges of the mask. Make sure no air is flowing from the area near your eyes or from the sides of the mask. If the mask has a good fit, you will feel warm air come through the front of the mask and may be able to see the mask move in and out as you breathe.

  • The best mask for you is one you can wear comfortably and consistently. Any mask that covers the nose and mouth will work.

  • We recommend that the wearer be able to remove and put on their own mask without assistance.

  • For additional protection, you can wear a disposable mask under a cloth mask. The cloth mask should push the edges of the inner mask against your face.

  • You can also wear a cloth mask that has multiple layers of fabric built-in.

  • We don’t recommend wearing two disposable masks at the same time. Disposable masks are not designed to fit tightly and wearing more than one will not improve fit.

  • If you are using a KN95 mask, there is no need to wear another mask at the same time. Only use one KN95 mask at a time.

  • No, a face shield is not an acceptable substitute for a cloth or disposable mask.

  • Masks and face-coverings are interchangeable terms. Cloth masks or face coverings or disposable masks are acceptable as long as they cover the nose and mouth.
  • People may wear surgical or other, more protective masks, but we encourage people to preserve medical masks for health care and other essential workers.
  • While at work, people should wear masks appropriate to the business in which they work.

  • Masks should:
    • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face.
    • Be secured with ties or ear loops.
    • Include multiple layers of fabric.
    • Allow for breathing without restriction.
    • Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape.
    • Cover your nose and mouth. Wearing a mask under your nose or chin doesn't work. 

  • Wash your cloth mask regularly with your regular laundry.

  • Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth when putting on and taking off your face covering. Hold the mask by the corners and avoid touching the front or back of it. Wash your hands before putting your mask on and right after you remove it. 

  • The CDC and CDPHE web pages are excellent resources.

  • No. Science shows that wearing a mask isn’t harmful.

  • 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 lower 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. 

  • The state still encourages mask-wearing in any setting where you may be interacting with people outside your household, especially indoors, if you are unvaccinated. Masks work well to protect people from all forms of COVID-19, including variants.

  • Many different peer-reviewed studies show that masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Masks work by reducing the amount of infectious respiratory particles in the air. More studies on masks are being added to the scientific literature every month.

  • Masks appear to help keep the person wearing the mask from spreading COVID-19 to others by reducing how many and how far infectious particles can spread when a sick person exhales, speaks, coughs, or sneezes. 

  • Masks also appear to partially protect the person wearing the mask, especially from severe infection. Masks may partially filter infectious particles and possibly reduce the amount of virus people breathe in. They may also keep people from touching their faces

  • Individuals are thought to be best protected when both they and most others in their community wear masks.

  • Mask-wearing works best when masks fit well. For more information, read a CDC report about how mask fit affects viral transmission.

  • Read a CDC editorial advocating for mask-wearing

  • These laboratory studies examine how well masks filter infectious particles in the laboratory setting or how COVID-19 transmission is prevented or limited among laboratory animals:

    • Fabric and homemade cloth masks, particularly tightly-woven and multi-layered ones, partially filtered out infectious respiratory droplets and aerosols in these two studies: Konda 2020 and Davies 2013.

    • Regular surgical face masks (not N95 masks) significantly reduced the amount of influenza virus and coronavirus nucleic acid detected in exhaled respiratory droplets and aerosols of infected individuals.  

    • Hamsters simulated to wear masks had a lowered risk of COVID-19 infection or less severe COVID-19 disease compared to hamsters who were not simulated to wear masks when exposed to the virus. 

  • These studies observe how masks may reduce the risk of getting sick from COVID-19 during individual outbreaks or potential outbreaks (i.e., natural “experiments”):

  • These studies demonstrate decreasing COVID-19 incidence after increases in mask use or mask mandates across a community or system:

  • Additional evidence that supports mask-wearing can be found in a recent CDC scientific brief