Mask-Wearing to Prevent COVID-19

Updated November 19, 2021

Please note that though mask requirements have changed during the course of the pandemic, masks or face coverings continue to be required for all staff, patients and visitors while inside Michigan Medicine facilities and the courtyard of the main medical campus, regardless of vaccination status. See our Keeping Our Patients Safe page for more ways we are working to keep our patients safe, or visit our Visitor Guidelines page for updated information on mask requirements for visitors.

Information about masks seems to be everywhere, but not all of it is helpful or based on facts. Read more about the how and why of mask-wearing in our Michigan Health Blog article, "Yes, You Should Wear a Mask. Here's How and Why".

Below are some answers to questions you may have about wearing a face covering.

Questions and Answers About Mask-Wearing

Is wearing a mask effective in stopping the spread of coronavirus?

Yes, wearing a face mask is effective in helping slow the spread of COVID-19, in addition to regularly (and thoroughly) washing hands and practicing physical distancing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that by covering your mouth and nose, you’re significantly lowering the chances of spreading infection through small droplets that come out of your mouth when you talk, sneeze and cough.

What kind of mask should I wear?

Masks can be made of different materials and designs, which influence their filtering capability. Although they cannot be washed, disposable masks are fluid resistant and effective in providing some protection against the spread of infectious droplets from person to person. It was also found in a recent lab study that masks made of household materials such as cloth have up to a 60% filtration rate for droplets that are linked to spreading COVID-19.

What is the proper way to wear a mask?

Face masks should be worn to cover the nose, mouth and chin. If possible, adjust the mask so there are no gaps on either side. Additionally, it’s important to wash hands before touching your mask, inspect for holes or tears, and avoid touching the mask once it’s on. Disposable masks should be discarded immediately after use, preferably in a closed bin. See How to Choose, Care For, and Wear Cloth Face Coverings below for more information.

Should I still practice physical distancing while wearing a mask?

Yes — public health experts report that masks alone cannot prevent the spread of COVID-19. Continue staying home when possible and maintaining at least a 6-foot distance from others in public, in addition to washing hands frequently and thoroughly. 

Do I still need to wear a mask if I’m healthy?

Yes. Mask-wearing is an essential preventive measure, even for those who consider themselves healthy or who aren’t experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. According to the CDC, many of those who are COVID-19-positive don’t show symptoms, so the risk of the virus may be present to others, especially vulnerable people, whether or not you realize you are sick.

Is it safe for me to wear a mask if I have asthma or COPD?

If you have severe lung disease, such as COPD or asthma, we still recommend you wear a face covering. There has been information reported that masks do not allow enough oxygen, or that they increase CO2 levels, but there is no medical evidence to support these claims. (See the related question below, "Does wearing a mask cause oxygen deficiency?" for more information.)

The face covering you use does not need to be tightly fitted, but it does need to cover your nose and mouth. In the rare case that you absolutely cannot tolerate a face covering, please work with your doctor to find an alternate solution, such as a face shield. While face shields are not considered interchangeable with masks, evidence suggests they can help to limit the spread of virus particles.

If I wear a mask, am I safe interacting with those who don’t?

While the risk of spreading COVID-19 is lower when at least one individual is wearing a mask, the probability is lowest (70 percent-plus less likely) when both (or all) parties are wearing masks while practicing physical distancing. 

Does wearing a mask cause oxygen deficiency?

No, wearing a mask does not have any consequential effects on respiration or lead to inhaling toxic levels of CO2. This was proven in a study conducted by members from the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why should I wear a mask when it’s my right not to?

First and foremost, masks protect others — especially the vulnerable. In addition, during the peak of COVID-19 in Michigan, millions of workers were laid off or out of work entirely. Many businesses have not survived. Experts, including Goldman Sachs and Stanford’s Institute for Economic Policy Research, predict that consistent and widespread mask wearing could significantly reduce further spread and help avoid a second wave during which businesses would have to close again. Mask wearing is critical for the health of both our people and our economy.


How to Choose, Care For, and Wear Cloth Face Coverings

Choosing a Mask

Choose a mask that:

  • Does not have a valve or other openings in it
  • Covers your face from the bridge of your nose down to your chin
  • Fits snugly against the sides of your face, with no gaps
  • Allows you to breathe easily through it

Caring for Your Mask

  • Wash your mask regularly using water and a mild detergent
  • Dry it completely in a hot dryer
  • Store it in a clean container or bag

Wearing a Mask

Don't do this:

  • Don’t allow your mask to slip under your nose and don’t wear it on your forehead or around your neck
  • Don’t touch the inside of it, as it may be contaminated from your breathing, coughing or sneezing
  • Don’t share it with others in your household without washing and drying it first
  • Don’t put it on a child younger than 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove it without assistance