Masks & Face Coverings

Masks work best when everyone wears them, but not all masks provide the same protection. How well a mask fits, how well it filters the air, and how many layers it has are all important to consider when choosing which mask to wear. Wearing a mask in public, when visiting friends or family, or when someone in your house is sick is now more important than ever with the increased spread of new COVID-19 variants, some of which appear to spread more easily and quickly than the original virus that causes COVID-19.

The following sections reflect updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the City’s Expert Advisory Panel (EAP), and the Cambridge Public Health Department.

Masks Keep You Healthy!

Masks help prevent the spread of the coronavirus to others. If you are sick with COVID-19—even if you have no symptoms—you can spread the virus to others. When you cough, talk, sing or just breathe, tiny viral particles enter the air that can infect people near you. Masks block these particles from getting into the air.

Certain masks can also protect you from getting COVID-19. New research shows that high quality “medical-style” masks available to the public are very effective at protecting the wearer from infection.

Other Ways To Stay Healthy

We all need to continue practicing physical (or social distancing) and good hand hygiene even if we are wearing masks. These practices are the best defense against the spread of COVID-19. Even after you are vaccinated, you need to cover your mouth and nose with a mask, wash hands often, and stay at least 6 feet away from others. Learn more about the vaccine here.

Mask Tips & Best Practices

Choosing the Best Mask for You

The best masks protect both you and others from getting sick. Look for masks that fit snugly and block at least 90% of small viral particles from being breathed in. Masks should also be comfortable, especially if they are being worn throughout the day.


Wear a mask with excellent filtration. Aim for 90-95%.

  • Several types of disposable masks available to the public provide excellent personal protection. These “high filtration” masks include KF94 masks (made in Korea), KN95 masks (made in China) and flat medical-style masks that are quality-certified.
  • KN95 and KF94 fit more snugly, depending on face-shape, than flat medical-style masks.
  • If shopping for masks, some key words to look for are KF94, KN95, or ASTM-rated.
  • About Cloth Masks: Cloth masks are best suited to outdoor use when it's easy to social distance. Most cloth masks do a good job of protecting others if you are sick.

More information on pros and cons of different types of masks is available on the CDC website.


Choose masks that fit snugly and cover nose, mouth, and chin.

  • All edges should touch your skin so that unfiltered air does not escape or enter through the gaps.
  • Try different shaped masks to fit your face.
  • Try "ear savers" or mask straps to change the way a mask fits on your face.
  • A bendable nose clip is important for keeping masks in place and closing gaps.
  • If you cannot get a good fit with a flat medical-style mask, consider placing a cloth mask over it. This is known as “double masking.”

See the CDC website for more tips on improving mask fit and double-masking.

Mask Reuse and Care

  • High quality disposable masks can be reused many times, as long as they are not visibly damaged or soiled. In independent tests, these masks remained effective after 40 hours or more of use.
  • Masks that have been filtering germs all day may have germs on their outside surface. When removing a mask, hold it by the ear loops and wash your hands afterwards.
  • Store used disposable masks in the open air or a paper bag to dry until you need them.
  • Do not clean your disposable masks with soap or alcohol—or put them in the washing machine—because this will destroy their ability to block viral particles. Medical-style flat masks and KF94/KN95 masks still work when wet with perspiration. They can be dried with a tissue.
  • Bacteria and fungi can grow on cloth masks, so they need to be washed daily with your laundry or in hot soapy water in the sink. 

Masks: Recommended vs. Not Recommended

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people wear masks in public settings, at events and gatherings, and anywhere they will be around other people. Effective February 2, 2021, masks are required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.

 CDC Mask Illustrations

 CDC Mask Illustrations  

More Information

Cambridge Face Coverings Order

The City of Cambridge issued an emergency order requiring that face coverings be worn in all public places, businesses and common areas of residential buildings. The original order took effect at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, April 29. The order was amended on May 25, June 23, September 25, and October 2 and applies to everyone over the age of five years old, with exceptions as listed in CDC (Center for Disease Control) or Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidelines. Violations may be punishable by a $300 fine. The City’s Temporary Emergency Order Requiring the Wearing of Masks or Face Coverings in all Public Places, Businesses, and in Common Areas of Residential Buildings was amended on May 25, 2020, June 23, 2020, on September 25, 2020, and on October 2, 2020.

In Public

The order applies to everyone over five years old “without limitation, when on, in or about” public places, defined as:

  • Sidewalks
  • Streets
  • Parks
  • Plazas
  • Bus stops
  • Non-residential parking lots and garages
  • Any other outdoor area or non-residential parking facility which is open and accessible to the general public.

Anyone age five or older must wear a mask or face covering at all times when on or in public places beginning on October 2, 2020. This replaces the City’s previous provision, which allowed people to remove face masks or coverings while outside during the summer months in Cambridge when a physical distance of at least 6 feet could be maintained at all times.

Restaurant and Cafes

The mask requirement also applies to anyone working in or visiting all businesses that are open to the public. Masks must remain on throughout shifts or visits to those businesses.

  •  Restaurants, cafes or similar establishments where prepared foods, meals or beverages may be purchased:
    • The amended order further clarifies that customer of food establishments may temporarily remove their masks or face coverings when dining; however, they may do so only when seated. Patrons must wear masks or face coverings at all other times when in indoor and outdoor areas of restaurants and cafes.

Residential Buildings

In residential buildings of two or more units, masks will be required prior to entering any common area, including:

  • Lobbies
  • Hallways
  • Elevators
  • Stairwells
  • Laundry rooms
  • Garages or parking lots
  • Walkways
  •  Yards and other outdoor common areas
    • In common areas, masks or cloth face coverings may be temporarily removed while eating or drinking when seated in outdoor seating areas, so long as a distance of at least six feet is maintained at all times
  • Mailrooms and other indoor common areas

Places of Business

The amended City Order also requires that employees of places of business may remove masks or cloth face coverings only when working alone in an individual office with a door closed or when working alone in an office suite with no other individuals present. Masks must be worn at all other times in places of business.


  • (2/18/21) Updated guidance on face masks from the Cambridge Public Health Department and CDC is now available 
  • (10/2/20) On October 2, 2020, the City issued the Fourth Amended Temporary Emergency Order Requiring the Wearing of Masks or Cloth Face Coverings in All Public Places, Businesses, and Common Areas of Residential Buildings (the “October 2, 2020 Amended Mask Order”), which went into effect immediately. The purpose of this amendment was to conform with state orders and to clarify an issue concerning common areas of residential buildings.
  • (9/25/20) The City of Cambridge today issued amendments to its emergency order requiring that face coverings be worn in all public places, businesses, and common areas of residential buildings with two or more dwelling units. The order goes into effect at 12:00 a.m. on Friday, October 2, 2020.
  • (8/7/20) Baker-Polito Administration Announces New Initiatives to Stop Spread of COVID-19
  • (6/27/20) The City has amended the Emergency Order requiring face coverings. During the summer months (i.e., from June 23,2020 until midnight on September 22, 2020) masks or cloth face coverings may be temporarily removed when outdoors when a physical distance of at least six (6) feet from others can be maintained at all times. Additionally, clarifying language has been added to allow for the removal of masks for dining at food establishments in the city, including outdoor dining.
  • (5/11/20) The City of Cambridge are distributing free face masks at the Cambridge Police Department, which is located at 125 6th Street, 7 days a week between the hours of 11 a.m.- 1 p.m. or until daily supplies are depleted. Officers in every marked Cambridge Police cruiser will have a supply of masks to distribute if they encounter residents without them during calls for service. Additionally, Homeless Outreach Officers will have an available supply and will proactively seek out and provide masks to residents who may not have access to a mask. If residents or organizations are looking to buy or make their own masks and face coverings, please see below for more information.
  • (5/1/20) The Baker-Polito Administration has ordered all residents over the age of two to use a face covering or mask in public places where maintaining proper social distancing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are not possible. Learn more.


Wear a Mask or Face Covering Anytime You Go Out in Public

How to Wear a Mask

ASL Use of Cloth Face Coverings

Page was posted on 3/18/2020 6:52 PM
Page was last modified on 3/3/2021 11:17 PM
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