Masks Information

Guidance for the Use of Face Coverings

Note: This guidance takes effect on June 15, 2021, and will supersede all prior face coverings guidance.


The COVID-19 vaccines are effective in preventing infection, disease, and spread. Unvaccinated persons are more likely to get infected and spread the virus which is transmitted through the air and concentrates indoors. The guidance aligns with CDC recommendations and provides information about higher-risk settings where masks are required or recommended to prevent transmission. When people who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask correctly, they protect others as well as themselves. Consistent and correct mask use by people who are not fully vaccinated is especially important indoors.

Guidance for Individuals 

Masks are not required for fully vaccinated individuals, except in the following settings where masks are required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status:

  • On public transit (examples: airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-shares) and in transportation hubs (examples: airport, bus terminal, marina, train station, seaport or other port, subway station, or any other area that provides transportation)

  • In Healthcare settings

  • In workplace settings that may have this requirement

Additionally, masks are required for unvaccinated individuals in indoor public settings and businesses (examples: retail, restaurants, theaters, family entertainment centers, meetings, state and local government offices serving the public).

For additional information, individuals should refer to CDC Recommendations for Safer Activities 

Exemptions to masks requirements

The following individuals are exempt from wearing masks at all times:

  • Persons younger than two years old. Very young children must not wear a mask because of the risk of suffocation.

  • Persons with a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a mask. This includes persons with a medical condition for whom wearing a mask could obstruct breathing or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove a mask without assistance.

  • Persons who are hearing impaired, or communicating with a person who is hearing impaired, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.

  • Persons for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to the person related to their work, as determined by local, state, or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines.

Mask Types

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



N-95 Respirators

About N-95 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.

Please do not buy or stock up on N-95s or surgical masks.

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.

Cloth Masks

About 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.

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.

How to Properly Wear and Care for Your Cloth Face Covering

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

Dust Masks

About 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.

Neoprene Masks

About 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.

KN95 Masks

About KN95 Masks

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.

Surgical Masks

About 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.

Bandanas and Gaiters

About 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.  Please note the CDC is evaluating the effectiveness of neck gaiters but their effectiveness is unknown at this time. Cloth bandanas tied behind the head may be uncomfortable for extended wear. Bandanas and neck gaiters should be washed before reuse.