Guidance for wearing masks

Last updated October 31, 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. Choosing to wear a mask can help protect you and your loved ones from COVID-19, especially in areas with higher COVID-19 levels

Some places and businesses may require visitors and customers 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 has 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 a KN95 mask with our graphic about how to use a KN95

The state of Colorado provides free KN95 masks at certain locations throughout the state. 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. Ideally, it should fit your face snugly so that unfiltered air cannot escape from any gaps.

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.


Mask requirements

Health care workers should contact their employer or refer to the CDC's Interim Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Healthcare Personnel During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic. Staff in assisted living residences and group homes for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities should refer to the Assisted Living Residences and Group Home Mitigation and Outbreak Guidance for more information about wearing masks at work.

Check with your local school district for local recommendations or requirements.

For more information about COVID-19 mitigation 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. Be aware that if you are unvaccinated and you cannot medically tolerate a mask, you should consider limiting visits to places that put you in contact with people who are at high risk from getting severely sick with COVID-19. 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. This webpage provides more information.
    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 non-medical 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.