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CDC Says Do Not Wear These Face Masks

Masks with valves, balaclavas, ski masks and others are no-gos when it comes to protection.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek
Face mask valve

Not all face masks are created equal. And as American coronavirus deaths pass 410,000—some victims of a more transmissible, possibly more deadly COVID-19 mutation—it's never been more important to wear your face mask right. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), previously "muzzled" under the former administration, according to its current director, offers guidance about the best face masks you can wear—and the worst. Read on for the masks you should not wear—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus


The CDC Says Do Not Wear Masks With Valves

woman with dyed hair and eyeglasses wears a black protective face mask with breathing valve.

"DO NOT choose masks that have exhalation valves or vents which allow virus particles to escape," says the CDC. "Exhalation valves, which make masks easier to breathe through and more comfortable, are appropriate when the mask is meant to protect the wearer. For instance, valved masks can protect workers from dust at a construction site or hospital workers from infected patients," reports government agency NIST. "The masks that the CDC recommends for slowing the spread of COVID, however, are mainly meant to protect people other than the wearer. They slow the spread of the disease by capturing exhaled droplets that might contain the virus. Even people without symptoms should wear masks, according to the CDC, because it is possible to be infected but not show symptoms."


The CDC Says Do Not Wear Masks Intended for Healthcare Workers

Medic, nurse with face mask and blue nitride gloves sharing a N95 mask.

"DO NOT choose masks that are intended for healthcare workers, including N95 respirators or surgical masks," says the CDC. "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend that the general public wear N95 respirators to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including coronavirus (COVID-19)," reports the FDA. "Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance."


The CDC Says Do Not Wear Masks That Make it Hard to Breathe

Senior woman having breathing difficulties

"DO NOT choose masks that are made of fabric that makes it hard to breathe, for example, vinyl," warns the CDC. The agency recommends you wear a masks that: 

  • "Have two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric
  • Completely cover your nose and mouth— and secure it under your chin.
  • Fit snugly against the sides of your face and don't have gaps."


The CDC Says Do Not Trust Face Shields

female teacher wearing face shield smiling while standing in classroom

"Not recommended," says the CDC about face shields. "Evaluation of face shields is ongoing, but effectiveness is unknown at this time." "It protects you, the wearer," pediatric infectious disease specialist Frank Esper, MD tells the Cleveland Clinic. "But if you cough, because the face shield is away from your face, those droplets can still get out better than if you have a mask on."


The CDC Says Do Not Trust Balaclavas or Scarves

woman covering face with woolen

"Scarves, ski masks and balaclavas are not substitutes for masks," says the CDC. "In experiments, bandanas, handkerchiefs, fleece balaclavas (cold-weather gear that covers the entire face except for the eyes) and neck gaiters (tubes of performance fabric typically used for running outdoors), offered very little protection, while N95 respirators, surgical masks and even homemade cloth masks performed better," reports CNBC.


The CDC Says Do Not Put Masks on Those Under 2

mother holding her 11 days old newborn baby

"Do NOT put on children younger than 2 years old," warns the CDC. According to KidsHealth, "Babies and toddlers under 2 years old shouldn't wear a mask because:

  • They have smaller airways, so breathing through a mask is harder for them.
  • If it's hard for them to breathe and they can't tell anyone or take the mask off by themselves, they could suffocate.
  • Some homemade masks might have pieces that a baby could choke on, such as strings or elastic bands.
  • They will likely try to remove the mask, causing them to touch their face a lot. This can increase their risk of catching and spreading the virus."


How to Stay Safe During This Pandemic

Female Wearing Face Mask and Social Distancing

Follow the simple public health fundamentals and help end this surge, no matter where you live—wear the right face mask, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, get vaccinated when it becomes available to you, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.