Using Masks to Slow the Spread of COVID-19

How to make a no-sew mask:

There are many no-sew patterns on the Internet. This one comes from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and requires a bandana or 20×20-inch square of cotton fabric (like an old t-shirt), rubber bands and scissors.

  1. Fold the bandana in half.
  2. Fold it into thirds by folding the top to the middle and then the bottom to the middle.
  3. Stick each end into a rubber band or hair tie. The two bands should be about six inches apart.
  4. Fold the right side to the middle and tuck it into the band.
  5. Fold the left side to the middle and tuck it into the band.
  6. Hold it up to your face with the seam against your mouth. Loop the bands over your ears.

Instructions for sewn and non-sewn masks are available here. Instructions for creating a clear view mask can be found here.


The most important way to protect others and yourself from getting COVID-19 is by staying home as much as possible, especially if you are at higher risk of serious illness. Keep at least 6 feet between yourself and others. While the use of masks, also known as cloth face coverings, has been recommended during the COVID-19 outbreak, as of May 29, 2020, the Commonwealth of Virginia now requires that people wear masks when spending time in indoor public settings. Masks are not needed for going outside to take a walk or work in your garden.

Masks can help protect the people around you.  Many people with COVID-19 have no signs or symptoms and can pass the virus to others without knowing it. When we talk, sneeze, sing, or cough, tiny droplets that contain the virus can be carried into the air. Infections occur mainly through exposure to these droplets when a person is in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

These droplets can sometimes remain in the air for minutes to hours. In enclosed spaces with poor ventilation, there is evidence that people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than 6 feet away. Wearing a mask helps stop droplets from going into the air or landing on surfaces.

You can help do your part to stop COVID-19 by wearing a mask in public places even if you don’t think you are sick or have been exposed to the virus. 

Remember that my mask protects you and your mask protects me! 

Masks can help protect you. Masks help reduce breathing in droplets that contain the virus.  Masks with multiple layers of cloth with higher thread counts provide better protection than single layers of cloth with lower thread counts.

Why are masks being required now?  Masks are required in certain public places in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Virginia. This requirement protects employees at work as well as people doing normal activities like grocery shopping or going to school. Wearing masks along with other measures, such as frequent hand washing, social distancing (staying six feet away from other people) and cleaning/disinfecting surfaces, can help prevent further spread of COVID-19. Wearing a mask should not take the place of these other measures.

Masks for children.  Masks should never be used on children under the age of two. Adults should use their best judgment in using masks for children between the ages of two and four while in public places. Adults should make their best efforts to get children ages five and above to wear masks when in public places as required by Executive Order 63. For children older than two years, find a mask made for children, if you are able to.

Exceptions:  There are a number of situations in which people don’t have to wear a mask while using indoor public spaces. These include:

  • While actively eating or drinking
  • While exercising or using exercise equipment
  • Anyone who has a breathing problem or health issue that would put their health at risk by wearing a mask.  
  • Anyone communicating with people who are hearing impaired for which the mouth needs to be visible.
  • When temporary removal of the mask is needed to get medical or governmental services. 

Masks are only one part of the solution.   Masks are only helpful when they are worn correctly and used with other recommendations. Don’t get a false sense of security from wearing a mask. You should still follow social distancing rules (limiting contact and staying 6 feet away from other people), wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, and cover your coughs and sneezes.

What if I don’t have a mask? Simple steps for making a mask with everyday items from your home can be found here. A video showing how to make a mask can be found here. Instructions for creating a clear view mask can be found here

VDH recommends the use of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and supports current CDC recommendations for what to look for from masks.

  • Fits snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • Completely covers the nose and mouth
  • For people who wear glasses, get a mask that fits closely over your nose or one with a nose wire, to limit fogging
  • Is secured with ties or ear loops
  • Includes  two or more layers of fabric
  • Allows for breathing without restriction
  • Masks that can be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape


One preliminary study showed that ‘neck gaiters’ did not offer protection from respiratory droplets. (Source: Low-cost measurement of facemask efficacy for filtering expelled droplets during speech, Science Advances). Wearing a mask that has two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric is currently recommended to prevent the spread of the disease.

Face shields are not a substitute for a mask. Face shields are primarily used to protect the eyes of the person wearing them and may be used in addition to wearing a mask.

Wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol) before putting on a mask. Cover your mouth and nose with the mask. Make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask. Be aware that if you touch your face or adjust your mask after you have touched other objects, you can easily spread germs to your face. If you do touch your face or mask, you should wash your hands or use hand sanitizer right away.

Cover your mouth AND nose with your mask. COVID-19 is spread primarily through respiratory droplets from your nose and mouth. Covering your nose and mouth helps to prevent the spread of the virus to others. It is also possible to be infected with COVID-19 from others if you breathe in viral particles through your nose. 

Be careful when taking off your mask. Remove it from behind the ears and try not to touch the front of the mask or your face. Once you remove the mask, you should throw it in the trash (if it’s disposable) right away or put it in the laundry. Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, and mouth when removing, and wash your hands right away.

Do not put the mask around your neck,on your forehead, under or only on your nose, or on your chin. Certain people should never wear a mask.  Masks should not be put on children under the age of two or used by people who have trouble breathing, are incapacitated, or who are otherwise unable to remove the mask without help.

Please do not buy N95 respirator masks or other medical face masks, unless required for your job. They are in short supply and are needed by the medical staff and first responders who are caring for sick people.

Masks with one-way exhalation valves or vents are not recommended. The purpose of masks is to keep respiratory droplets belonging to the person wearing the mask from reaching others. Masks with one-way valves or vents allow exhaled air to be expelled out through holes in the material.  This can allow exhaled respiratory droplets to reach others and potentially spread the COVID-19 virus. Therefore, VDH does not recommend using masks if they have an exhalation valve or vent. 

For people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities, mental health conditions, such as anxiety, or other sensory sensitivities, it may feel scary or challenging to wear a mask. Talk with your healthcare provider for advice on how to wear a mask. It may also be helpful to practice wearing a mask at home for short time periods and taking breaks if you feel anxious. Practicing at home first may help you adjust to wearing a mask in public settings. Taking slow, deep breaths may also help reduce anxiety or stress from wearing a mask. 

Mask recommendations for public transportation. Appropriate masks should be worn by all passengers and operating personnel while using public transportation (e.g., airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-shares) and at transportation hubs where people access public transportation (e.g., airports, train and subway stations, bus and ferry terminals, seaports, ride-share pick-up locations).

What to do if people are not wearing masks:  To file an online complaint about Executive Order 63 (Face Coverings) and Executive Order 65 (Phase Two easing of certain restrictions) related only to masks and capacity requirements, click here. You may also call or talk to the business owner about your concerns if you see staff or customers who are not wearing masks in indoor public settings.  Please do not call the police or your local health department. For your own safety, do not confront these people or start an argument.  Try to stay 6 feet away from people who are not wearing masks. 

It is a good time to be kind!  Please do not shame or yell at people who are not wearing masks. Others may have breathing problems or health issues you do not know about.  People who cannot wear a mask are not required to show proof of their medical condition nor are they required to name their medical condition.  

If you are sick, stay home and separate yourself from others in your house. Wear a mask over your nose and mouth if you must be around other people, even at home. If you need medical care, call ahead and tell them you have or may have COVID-19. For more information, see VDH’s If You’re Sick site.

For More Information:


 For the caption: Instructions for sewn and non-sewn masks are available here. Instructions for creating a clear view mask can be found here.

Page Last Updated: December 4, 2020