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COVID-19: Wear a Mask

Symbol of a mask on blue background over orange
Science shows that wearing a well-fitting, multi-layered mask can help prevent transmission of the respiratory droplets and aerosols that spread COVID-19.

Find free masks near you.


When you should wear a mask or respirator

Layering prevention strategies like staying up to date on vaccines, staying home when sick, and wearing a well-fitting mask when needed can help keep you and others from getting COVID-19. The Department of Health Services (DHS) recommends everyone ages 2 years and older to wear a well-fitting mask or respirator when recommended or required. However, you can choose to wear one at any time based on your individual risk factors or personal preference.

Wear a well-fitting mask or respirator:

  • In all indoor spaces in areas with a high COVID-19 Community Level.
  • In health care settings (such as a hospital, clinic, or doctor's office) when required by the facility.
  • For 10 days after being exposed to COVID-19.
  • For at least 10 days after developing symptoms or testing positive for COVID-19. People can use a test-based strategy to potentially shorten the duration of mask use.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend that people wear a well-fitting mask in indoor public transportation settings, especially if they are at increased risk for severe disease. Talk to a doctor and consider wearing a mask if you are at high risk for severe illness or spend time around people at high risk for severe illness.

How to wear a mask

Your mask should cover both your mouth and nose, fit snugly against your face, and have at least two layers of material. Your mask should also have a nose wire to help prevent respiratory droplets and aerosols from leaking in and out around the edges. You can check for gaps by feeling for airflow around the top, side, or bottom of your mask. Learn how to improve the way your mask fits and functions.

Types of masks and respirators

All masks and respirators provide some level of protection against the virus that causes COVID-19. Some masks and respirators may offer more protection than others but can be harder to wear consistently throughout the day. Wear the most protective mask or respirator you can that fits well and that you can wear comfortably for long periods of time, if necessary.

  • Masks help reduce the amount of droplets and particles you breathe, cough, or sneeze out from reaching other people and making them sick. If they fit closely to the face, they can help provide you some protection from particles spread by others. Well-fitting disposable surgical masks offer more protection than cloth or other woven masks, but less protection than respirators.
  • Respirators fit closely on the face and filter out droplets and particles from the air you breathe in, including the virus that causes COVID-19. They also prevent most of the droplets and particles that you breath, cough, or sneeze out from reaching other people and making them sick. Respirators are most effective at reducing the spread of disease, if worn properly. Popular types of respirators are the N95 and KN95s.

Although masks are less effective than respirators, they can still be effective tools to help stop the spread of disease. It is important to remember that any mask is better than no mask when protecting yourself from COVID-19. Find more information on different types of masks and respirators.

Frequently asked questions

Respiratory droplets are released when someone coughs, sneezes, talks, or breathes. The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads from person to person through these respiratory droplets. A mask forms a barrier that reduces the amount of respiratory droplets traveling in the air. They also reduce the amount these droplets inhaled in the nose or mouth of other people. Masks work best when everyone consistently and correctly wears them.

Studies show that a well-fitted, multi-layer face mask can block the majority of respiratory droplets from escaping into the air. This reduces the wearers’ exposure to infectious droplets by filtering them out of the air they breathe. The use of masks have been shown to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection by 70% or more in a variety of settings (for example, homes, workplaces, airplanes). However, masks are most effective when combined with other preventive measures, such as getting vaccinated.

Reusable masks (such as cloth masks) should be washed frequently, ideally after each use, or at least daily. Use regular laundry detergent and a warm or hot water setting. Dry on warm or high heat, or lay flat and allow to air dry completely in sunlight, if possible. Do not wear when damp.

If you have a disposable face mask, you should throw it away after wearing it once.

If you need a mask but do not have access to one, you may be able to make your own by sewing one. There is no standard design for homemade masks, but there are many patterns and instructions online from hospitals and other organizations.

If making your own mask, keep the following in mind:

  • Build a mask that tightly encloses the area around the nose and mouth, from the bridge of the nose down to the chin, and extending onto the cheek beyond the corners of the mouth, so no gaps occur when talking or moving.
  • Use material that is tightly woven but breathable. Possibly double-layer the fabric.
    • Masks must be made from washable fabric.
    • Choose a fabric that can handle high temperatures and bleach without shrinking or otherwise deforming.
  • The mask should be tolerant of expected amounts of moisture from breathing.
  • Suggested materials: Outer layer tea cloth, inner layer of a microfleece to wick away moisture, and an inner tea cloth layer. Use an accordion fold to mimic a hospital mask as much as possible and use a fat woven shoelace type material to bind the sides (such as quilt binding). For straps, use elastic straps that loop behind the ears.
Online instructions and patterns

What to know about asthma and masks during COVID-19

In addition to getting vaccinated, wearing a mask is an effective way to fight the spread of COVID-19. To prevent COVID-19 infection, the CDC, national lung organizations, and asthma doctors across the country agree that it’s especially important for people with asthma and other lung diseases to wear a mask or face covering. This is because they might be at an increased risk for severe illness from the virus that causes COVID-19.

Common questions about people with asthma wearing a mask

Are masks safe for people with asthma?

The CDC, national lung organizations, and asthma doctors across the country agree that it is especially important people with asthma and other lung diseases to wear a mask. They all agree that masks are safe for people with controlled asthma.

What kind of mask should I wear?

  • A traditional cloth mask with two or more layers of breathable fabric or a surgical mask are the best choices for someone with asthma.
  • Make sure it's comfortable, covers your nose and mouth, tucks under your chin, and fits snugly against the sides of your face.
  • Try different mask types if one kind is uncomfortable.
  • Choose a latex-free mask if you have a latex allergy.

What kind of mask should I avoid?

  • If you have asthma, avoid a tight-fitting mask like an N-95. Ask your health care provider if you need a special mask.
  • Don't use masks with valves because air droplets can escape through the valves, potentially exposing people around you to the coronavirus.

Will my asthma symptoms worsen while wearing a mask?

People over age 2 with asthma should be able to breathe through cloth or standard medical masks without trouble. There is enough airflow from gaps around the mask and through it that provide plenty of oxygen.

What if I experience difficulty breathing while wearing a mask?

  • If a person with asthma has impaired breathing or other challenges while wearing a mask, it could be a sign of poorly controlled asthma. Follow your asthma management plan to control symptoms. If problems persist, contact your doctor right away.
  • Try a different mask style to see if it is more tolerable.
  • Talk more slowly, which can improve air flow.
  • If you’re outside and at least 6 feet away from other people, take a break from your mask, but keep it accessible.

Can I wear a face shield instead of a mask?

Wearing a face shield alone doesn’t limit the spread of air droplets as effectively as a mask. Consider wearing a face shield with your mask if you cannot keep at least 6 feet away from other people.

Should I wear a mask during exercise?

  • Exercising while wearing a mask should not trigger an asthma attack if your asthma is under control.
  • During hot or humid weather, stay in air conditioning, or exercise outdoors early in the morning or in the evening when temperatures are lower.

What can I do if my job requires wearing a mask?

You may be required to wear a mask as part of your job. If you have trouble breathing while wearing a mask, talk to your employer about other strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19. People with asthma are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and can ask for reasonable accommodations like working from home, taking more frequent breaks, or wearing a face shield.

What are some other benefits of wearing a mask?

Wearing a mask can also help block asthma triggers like common cold viruses, flu virus, cold air, pollen, and animal dander.

Where can I get more information?

*Adapted from materials developed by the Michigan Department of Health & Human Resources’ Asthma Program.

Resources on wearing masks

Access materials and resources on wearing a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

211 Wisconsin

Call 211 or 877-947-2211 to get referrals for thousands of services across Wisconsin. For COVID-19 questions, text COVID to 211-211. Language assistance is available.

Resilient Wisconsin

Get help learning how to manage stress and adapt to change with services and support from organizations across the state.

Helpful resources

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Last revised October 10, 2022