CDC Calls For 'Universal Face Mask Use'

Woman and her small child wearing face masks on the playground.

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Key Takeaways

  • The CDC says face masks should be worn any time a person is outside of their home.
  • Face masks should also be worn inside the home if there is any potential risk of COVID-19 exposure.
  • Consistent face mask wearing is what matters most. The type of mask you wear may vary depending on where you are.

On December 4, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance on mask-wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the organization is calling for "universal face mask use" in all activity outside of one's home. The CDC is also recommending that masks be worn in the home as well if you, or someone else in your house, has COVID-19 or has had recent exposure to the virus.

"Consistent and correct use of face masks is a public health strategy critical to reducing respiratory transmission of SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID-19], particularly in light of estimates that approximately one-half of new infections are transmitted by persons who have no symptoms,” the CDC said in their latest report.

Another recent CDC update also stated that masks help protect the wearer, as well as other people around them.

Mask Recommendations

The new CDC guidance recommends “nonvalved, multilayer cloth masks or nonmedical disposable masks for community use.” They also remind people to refrain from using N-95 respirators that should be reserved for healthcare workers and first responders.

The CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) offer recommendations on the most effective types of face coverings.

Per the CDC, you should look for:

  • Non-medical disposable masks
  • Masks with breathable fabrics like cotton
  • Masks with tightly woven fabrics
  • Coverings with at least two to three layers
  • Masks with inner filter pockets

For fabric face masks, WHO says they should be made of three layers of fabric and include:

  • An inner layer of absorbent material, such as cotton
  • A middle layer of non-woven non-absorbent material, such as polypropylene
  • An outer layer of non-absorbent material, such as polyester or polyester blend

It's important to stay up to date on the latest mask recommendations, which are still evolving. According to the CDC, researchers are “still studying the effectiveness of different types of masks and will update our recommendations as new scientific evidence becomes available.”

What This Means For You

Do your best to stay on top of face mask guidelines, which are still changing months into the pandemic. You should wear a face mask any time you leave your house, and consider wearing a face mask in your own home if there is any chance you could be exposed to COVID-19, or if there's any chance you could be exposing others.

Consistent Mask Wearing

Leana Wen, MD, MPH, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, tells Verywell what is most important is consistent mask-wearing.

“Choose the one that is comfortable enough for you so that you will always wear it," Wen says. "If you find excuses to have it off, it’s time to make a change."

Wen says you can have different masks based on your settings.

Outdoors: For something like an isolated walk, you don’t need a heavy-duty mask, and a disposable covering works well.

Indoors: When spending time with people you don't live with indoors, wear a mask with three layers and check regularly to be sure it’s covering your mouth and nose. If boarding a flight, consider adding a face shield over a mask for added protection from those around you. 

Lisa Maragakis, MD, MPH, senior director of infection prevention at the Johns Hopkins Health System in Baltimore, offers some additional guidance:  

  • Look for a mask made with at least two layers of fabric. 
  • The mask should cover your nose and mouth without large gaps and have ear loops or ties so you can adjust it.
  • For people who wear glasses, look for a mask with a bendable border at the top so you can mold the mask to fit the bridge of your nose, preventing your glasses from fogging.

The CDC recommends that mask-wearing begin at age 2, and reminds people that social distancing, at least six feet away, is still necessary—even if everyone is wearing a mask. 

Maragakis recommends choosing—or making—masks with a pocket for a filter which can further block the virus. Studies show that polypropylene (the material used to make N-95 respirators) and “shop” towels (slightly thicker than paper towels) are effective filters.

It's important to dispose of or clean your mask and corresponding filters each day.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Summary of Guidance for Public Health Strategies to Address High Levels of Community Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and Related Deaths, December 2020.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scientific Brief: Community Use of Cloth Masks to Control the Spread of SARS-CoV-2.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Considerations for Wearing Masks.

  4. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Masks.

By Fran Kritz
Fran Kritz is a freelance healthcare reporter with a focus on consumer health and health policy. She is a former staff writer for Forbes Magazine and U.S. News and World Report.