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Respiratory Illness: Wearing a mask to stop the spread

Respiratory Illness

Wearing a mask to stop the spread

This information has been translated into other languages – see the links at the bottom of this page.

Wearing a mask is a simple way to stop respiratory illnesses from spreading. A respiratory illness includes colds, influenza, COVID-19, and other illnesses that affect your breathing.

Masks work to stop respiratory illnesses from spreading because they:

  • stop droplets from your nose and mouth from going into the air
  • keep you from touching your face (When you touch your face, you bring germs onto your face. You also spread germs when you touch your face and then touch people or surfaces without cleaning your hands.)

If I have respiratory symptoms, what else can I do along with wearing a mask?

Masks work best when you also take other actions. These include:

  • cleaning your hands often with alcohol-based hand rub (hand sanitizer) or soap and water
  • physical distancing (staying at least 2 metres away from other people)
  • staying home when you’re sick
  • following public health orders, local bylaws, and any health and safety rules in buildings

When everyone does these things, it helps everyone stay safe.

Will a mask help when physical distancing is difficult?

Wearing a mask and cleaning your hands helps to keep everyone safe when you’re within 2 metres of another person for a short time. You may be asked or choose to wear a mask in shared indoor spaces such as:

  • doctor’s offices
  • public transit
  • grocery stores and retail shops
  • pharmacies
  • hair salons

Do I need to wear a mask if I’ve had the COVID-19 or influenza vaccine?

Keep following recommendations of when to wear a mask, even if you’ve had the COVID-19 or influenza vaccine.

What should I look for in a mask?

A clean non-medical mask or a medical mask that fits snuggly over your mouth, nose, and chin is fine for most places. Do not wear a mask with an exhalation valve (a spot that opens when you breathe out), because droplets go out through the valve and can spread germs.

A non-medical mask can be either reusable or disposable (you throw it in the garbage after using it). If your reusable mask is homemade, it’s best if it has 3 layers, including a filter layer.

Your mask should:

  • be comfortable
  • fit you well so you don’t need to adjust it often
  • let you breathe easily
  • have ties or ear loops to hold the mask in place

How do I put on my mask?

To put on your mask:

  1. Clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  2. Open the mask all the way to cover your face from your nose to below your chin.
  3. Put the mask on using the ties or loops. If the mask has a nose bar, pinch it around your nose.
  4. Once it’s on, don’t touch the front of the mask or your face under the mask.

How do I take off my mask?

To take off your mask:

  1. Clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  2. Use the ties or loops on the mask to take it off. Don’t touch the front of the mask.
  3. Throw out disposable masks in the garbage right away.
  4. Clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

For reusable masks, it’s a good idea to carry a bag to safely store used masks until you can wash them at home. Also, carry a bag that has a few clean masks in it. Always clean your hands after taking off your reusable mask and before you take a clean mask from the bag.

How do I clean reusable masks?

Follow the washing and drying instructions for reusable masks. If there are no instructions, wash reusable masks in the washing machine or by hand with soap and water. You can dry them in the dryer or let them air dry. Reusable masks should keep their shape after washing and drying.

How often should I change my mask?

If your mask gets damp or dirty, clean your hands and put on a new one. Wear a new mask at least every day.

Do I need to wear a mask when I go visit family or friends in an Alberta Health Services (AHS) facility?

Family and visitors entering an AHS facility are asked to clean their hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water. You may be asked to wear a mask in all areas of the building. You can wear your own disposable, clean, and intact mask when entering an AHS facility.

How do I stop my glasses from fogging up when I’m wearing a mask?

Your glasses can fog up when the warm air you breathe comes out the top of the mask and steams up the lenses. Try these tips to stop your glasses from fogging up:

  • Wash your glasses with soap and water or use an anti-fogging product. Let them air dry or dry them gently with a soft cloth.
  • Put the lenses or nose pads of your glasses over your mask.
  • Adjust the nose pads on your glasses so the frames sit slightly farther from your face.

What if I can’t wear a mask?

Most people are able to wear a mask, but some people can’t wear a mask for medical reasons. Masks are also not recommended for children who are younger than 2 years old.

If you need urgent medical care, you will get the care you need. If possible, tell your doctor or the healthcare facility before you visit that you can't wear a mask. You may need to go to a private room or separate space when you arrive.

To learn more about wearing non-medical masks to help stop COVID-19 from spreading, see Alberta Health’s COVID-19: Mask Requirements.


Related to: Wearing a mask to stop the spread

Other languages

Wearing a mask to stop the spread

  • Amharic
  • Arabic
  • Blackfoot
  • French
  • Hindi
  • Punjabi
  • Simplified Chinese
  • Somali
  • Spanish
  • Tigrinya
  • Traditional Chinese
  • Vietnamese

To see this information online and learn more, visit

For 24/7 nurse advice and general health information call Health Link at 811.

Current as of: May 1, 2023

Author: Infection Prevention & Control, Alberta Health Services

This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.