Mask Up and Make a Difference: What mask should I wear?

It is extremely important to wear face masks in public during COVID-19, and in many cities in Arizona it is becoming required. However, the term “face mask” (sometimes referred to as face coverings) can mean a lot of things, so it may be helpful to get familiar with some of the different types available. Face masks are a broad category of protective covering for the mouth and nose. Face masks are designed and used for a wide variety of purposes and there are many shapes, sizes, designs, and materials available.

Some important notes to remember: 

  • Face masks are not for your protection; they are for the protection of everyone around you
  • While not all face masks and coverings are equally protective against COVID-19, any face covering is better protection for the people around you than none at all. 
  • Face masks alone are not enough to stop the spread of COVID-19; everyone must continue with physical distancing and strict hand hygiene (hand washing and/or use of hand sanitizer).
  • Face masks and cloth face coverings, to be effective, must cover your mouth AND nose and fit snugly to your face so that there aren’t visible gaps around the edges.  

Reserved for “High Riskers”: Due to shortages in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in many medical facilities, the WHO and CDC continue to request that the public reserve medical/surgical-grade masks and respirators for healthcare professionals and medical first responders who are at high risk of contracting COVID-19, or for members of the public who are at high risk of complications from COVID-19 such as the elderly, immunocompromised, or those with underlying health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. Additionally, construction workers and tradespeople rely on particulate (e.g. dust) masks to protect their lungs while working, so particulate masks should also be reserved for those in high-risk trades and professionsIf you aren’t a “high risker,” stick with cloth face coverings or non-medical disposable masks.   

For a simple, no-sew way to make your own face covering, please watch the CDC’s instructional video. With only a t-shirt and two rubber bands you’ll be able to meet your city’s face mask requirements in less than 5 minutes.





Not Effective alone
Cloth Face Coverings
Disposable Masks

Particulate Masks

Face Shields


Medical-grade VersionReserved for High RIskers

Reserved for Tradespeople

Reserved for 
High Riskers

Not Recommended
Face coverings are cloth/fabric masks which can be either purchased or easily made at home. These include everything from the CDC’s rolled up t-shirt mask to a tightly-tied bandana. To be as effective as possible, the face covering should have at least 3 layers of fabric and fit snugly to the face to help prevent moisture or droplets from escaping while you’re talking, coughing, sneezing, etc. 

Avoid cloth face coverings with exhalation valves. The valves make it easier to breathe out, but to do that they allow out unfiltered air which means they aren’t protecting anyone else from your respiratory droplets.

These disposable blue, pleated, 3-ply face masks are commonly available and can be an effective alternative to a cloth face covering so long as they fit well. As with all face masks, ensure that it fits snugly to your face so that there aren’t large gaps and, if possible, it should also cinch around the bridge of your nose. These masks cannot be washed, so be sure to throw them away at the end of the day.

Medical- or surgical-grade versions of these masks (specifically made and tested to the ASTM F2100 standard) should not typically be purchased as they are reserved for people who are at high risk of contracting, or high risk of complications from, COVID-19. 

Particulate masks are paper-based and disposable. They are intended to reduce the amount of dust or larger particulates you may inhale. These are an alternative to a cloth face covering but may offer less protection than multiple layers of fabric. 

Particulate masks may be difficult to find and should ideally be reserved for tradespeople who require them for protection from dust and other fine air-borne particulates at work
Respirators are a type of face mask that is molded or fitted to the face to create an air-tight seal. These masks, including the N-35 and N-99 respirators, are NIOSH certified to protect the wearer from small particles in the air.  

Respirators may currently be difficult to find and should be reserved for medical personnel, as these must be fitted and worn under careful guidance in order to be safe and effective.
Face shields are clear plastic shields attached to a headband of some sort. While they do stop some larger respiratory droplets in the air, they are not able to stop the spread of small respiratory droplets  which may still be carrying COVID-19.

Face shields are not recommended unless they are worn over a face mask for added protection.

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