Masks Information

Wearing masks and face coverings:

Most counties in the Bay Area are now requiring that anyone, over 12 years old, who goes out for essentials needs to wear a face covering, especially while waiting in line or inside any essential business, using public transit, riding in a taxi/Lyft/Uber or seeking healthcare, as well as anytime you come within 6 feet of someone from outside your household.  The City of Berkeley’s Health Officer issued an order requiring that essential businesses such as the campus require their employees to wear a face covering at work, subject to specific exceptions.  We are now requiring that our faculty and staff who are on campus wear face coverings.

The primary role of wearing a covering is to reduce the release of infectious particles into the air when someone speaks, coughs, or sneezes, including someone who has COVID-19 but feels well. Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for physical distancing and washing hands and staying home when ill.

A cloth face covering is a material that covers the nose and mouth. It can be secured to the head with ties or straps or simply wrapped around the lower face. It can be made of a variety of materials, such as cotton, silk, or linen. A cloth face covering may be factory-made or sewn by hand or can be improvised from household items such as scarfs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels. Make sure the covering is comfortable – you don’t want to have to keep adjusting the mask, which means touching your face.  Always wash your hands, or use hand sanitizer, before and after touching your face or face coverings.

Please do not buy or stock up on surgical masks or N-95s. Preserve the limited supply of medical-grade masks such as an N-95 for health care workers or first-responders, who cannot use physical distance to protect themselves, especially from people at their most symptomatic, infectious period.  The City of Berkeley is collecting PPE donations through their website. All these donations will be vetted/ distributed to healthcare facilities, EMS partners, and Skilled Nursing Facilities/Long-term Care Facilities depending on need.

Wearing a face covering during the coronavirus pandemic helps prevent the spread of germs, in addition to social distancing, hand washing, and staying home when sick. 

Here are examples of the various types of masks that are being used to protect public health.


image of n95 mask

N95 Respirators 

Protect the wearer from breathing in airborne particles like viruses, bacteria, dust, wildfire smoke, and other particulate matter.

Employees with occupational exposures are required to wear these including healthcare workers and lab researchers. Because these masks make it harder to breathe, medical clearance is required for mandatory use, and a fit test is performed to ensure the respirator makes a good seal with the face. Facial hair must not interfere with the seal of the mask.

Voluntary use of N95s allows use without medical clearance and fit testing.  N95s are disposable and not intended for reuse in most cases.

image of dust mask

Dust Masks

These look like N95 respirators but they may not have the proper certifications that N95s have (e.g. NIOSH certification). 

Dust masks are okay for voluntary use. They are typically sold in hardware stores for people who need protection from sawdust and other construction work.  Dust masks are disposable.

image of kn95 mask


Equivalent to N95 respirators, but are not cleared by the FDA and typically used in China.  With worldwide supply shortages of N95s in America, more KN95 masks are starting to appear in this country.

image of surgical mask

Surgical Masks 

These masks are not considered respirators; they do not filter out particles to the extent that N95 and KN95 masks do. Surgical masks contain droplets and spittle from the mouth and nose of the wearer.  Because they do not make a tight seal with the face, particles can enter around the edges of the mask. Surgical masks are disposable and not designed for reuse in most cases.

image of neoprene masks

Neoprene Masks

These masks are typically designed for sports use where wind and thermal protection is desired.  Because the material is thick, it can prevent the spread of droplets from the mouth and nose, depending on mask design.  Neoprene fabrics are washable and reusable. Masks should be washed before reuse.

image of neck gaiter and bandana

Bandanas and Neck Gaiters

Cotton or synthetic materials are used to make these.  The material is often thin for improved breathability, which means a decreased ability to contain droplets.  Layering the fabric can help improve containment. Neck gaiters are made of stretchy synthetic fabric which makes them comfortable to wear.  Cloth bandanas tied behind the head may be uncomfortable for extended wear. Bandanas and neck gaiters should be washed before reuse.

image of cloth masks

Cloth Masks

These masks are sewn from cotton fabrics and constructed to look like a surgical mask, sometimes with a pleated panel. They function like a surgical mask, so long as the fabric weave is thick enough to prevent droplet penetration when coughing and sneezing.  Cloth masks should be washed before reuse.

From UC Berkeley EH&S: Video - How to Properly Wear and Care for Your Cloth Face Covering

How to Properly Wear and Care for Your Cloth Face Covering