Masks & Face Coverings

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.

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. 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

COVID-19 vaccines are effective at protecting you from getting sick. Based on what we know about COVID-19 vaccines, the CDC says that people who have been fully vaccinated can start to do some things that they had stopped doing because of the pandemic.

In indoor public spaces, the vaccination status of other people or whether they are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 is likely unknown. Therefore, fully vaccinated people should continue to wear a mask that fits snugly against the sides of your face and doesn’t have gaps, cover coughs and sneezes, wash hands often, and follow any applicable workplace or school guidance. Learn more from the CDC.

 CDC Mask Illustrations

 CDC Mask Illustrations  

More Information

Cambridge Face Coverings Order

Effective Friday, April 30, the City of Cambridge will align with Commonwealth’s updated Face Coverings Order with regards to outdoor mask wearing. All other provisions of the City’s Emergency Order on Wearing of Masks or Face Coverings remain in effect.

View City of Cambridge Fourth Amended Temporary Emergency Order Amending Outdoor Mask Requirements and Requiring the Wearing of Masks in All Indoor Public Places, Businesses, and in Common Areas of Residential Buildings - Effective April 30, 2021

Under the City’s amended order, masks or face coverings will not be required outside in public spaces when individuals are able to remain at a safe distance (six feet) from others. Masks or face coverings are required at all times at indoor and outdoor venues and events, except when eating or drinking, and, in residential buildings of two or more units, masks are required prior to entering any common area. The City of Cambridge continues to require 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.

In Public

Masks or face coverings are required at all times at indoor and outdoor venues and events, except when eating or drinking

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:
    • Customers 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 City of Cambridge continues to require 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.


  • (4/29/21) City of Cambridge to Advance to Phase IV, Step 1 on May 6, 2021, and Relax Outdoor Mask Requirements, Effective April 30, 2021
  • (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.
Page was posted on 3/18/2020 6:52 PM
Page was last modified on 5/13/2021 4:51 PM
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