COVID-19 Q&A: Masks are an important tool to protect against disease

January 25, 2022
Elke Shaw-Tulloch, Division of Public Health administrator

Masks are a critical part of the tools we have to help keep us healthy during a pandemic with a respiratory pathogen. Here are some common questions about masks that we hope will inspire you to wear one that fits, is comfortable, and provides protection for you and those around you.  

Do masks provide protection against COVID-19?

All masks, when they cover your mouth and nose and are made from quality materials, provide some protection. They keep saliva and other particles, including viruses, from becoming airborne as you breathe and speak and potentially infecting others. They can also help protect you from inhaling viruses, germs, and other particles from others.

All masks provide more protection when more people in a group wear them.

Source: American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists


When should I wear a mask?

In general, masks that fit, provide protection, and are comfortable should be worn when you are sick, others around you are sick, and when you don’t know the status of others in a group, such as when you are in a public place, especially if there is less than 6 feet between you and others.

In general, you do not need to wear masks when you’re outdoors. In areas of substantial or high transmission (which is all of Idaho at this time), you might choose to wear a mask outdoors when in sustained close contact with other people, particularly if:

Wearing a mask over your nose and mouth is required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and while indoors at U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and train stations. Travelers are not required to wear a mask in outdoor areas like on open deck areas of a ferry or the uncovered top deck of a bus.

Which mask is the best?

The best mask is one that you can wear comfortably and has a good fit to your face. That said, in general cloth masks provide the least amount of protection for the shortest amount of time, while specialized filtering masks such as N95s provide the most protection for the longest amount of time. Medical masks and KN95 masks provide more protection than cloth masks, but not as much as N95s.


Who should wear a mask?

Everyone, including children older than 2, should wear a mask in indoor public places if they:

  • Are not up to date on COVID-19 vaccines
  • Live in an area with substantial or high transmission
  • Have a weakened immune system

Elke Shaw-Tulloch is the administrator of the Division of Public Health, and the state’s Public Health Officer. She has worked for the department since 1996 and was promoted to division administrator in 2012.  Since February 2020, she has focused a majority of her time on responding to the coronavirus pandemic. 

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