Face Coverings and Masks

The City of Hamilton’s Face Coverings or Mask By-law 20-155 was repealed on March 21, 2022. Masks are no longer required in enclosed public places in Hamilton. However, individuals should assess their own risk level and consider wearing a mask in certain settings to protect themselves and others.

Do face coverings protect you from COVID-19?

Wearing a face covering or mask when you are sick protects people who are around you. Since some people who are infected with COVID-19 may have the virus and not know it, whenever people you are going out and might come into close contact with other people, they you should assess your personal level of risk and consider wearing a face covering or mask. When other people wear a face covering or mask, they are helping to protect you as well. 

Masks can help:

  • contain your respiratory particles
  • prevent or reduce the amount of infectious respiratory particles you inhale, particularly when wearing a well-constructed, well-fitting mask

Masks or face coverings should:

  • Be well fitting.
  • Cover an individual’s nose, mouth and chin, without gaping.
  • Fit securely to the head with ties or ear loops.
  • Maintain their shape after washing and drying.
  • Be made of multiple layers consisting of at least 2 layers of tightly woven fabric such as cotton and a third (middle) layer of filter-type fabric, such as non-woven polypropylene fabric.
  • Be comfortable to avoid the need for adjustments when wearing.
  • Not contain non-breathable materials such as plastic.
  • Read more on 3 layer non-medical masks
  • Public Health Ontario fact sheet on types of masks

No matter which type of mask you choose, proper fit is a key factor in its effectiveness.

How well a mask works depends on fit. When choosing a mask, keep in mind:

  • masks with a flexible nosepiece may provide a better fit over the nose
  • the fit of the mask can vary depending on the size and features of your face
  • masks with ties or bands that go around the back of the head may provide a better fit
    • if choosing an ear loop-style mask, use one with adjustable ear loops or use the tips below to improve fit

A well-fitting mask should:

  • fit completely and comfortably cover the nose, mouth and chin without gaps and not allow air to escape from edges
  • fit securely to the head with ties, bands or ear loops
  • be comfortable and not require frequent adjustments
  • maintain its shape after washing and drying

Ways to improve fit include:

  • adjusting ties or ear loops
  • adjusting the flexible nosepiece
  • tying knots in the ear loops and tucking the sides of the mask so that it lies flat
  • keeping facial hair and beards shaved or short, if possible, so the mask can fit closely to your face

How to make your mask fit properly

Non-fit tested N95 masks offer similar effectiveness to well-fitted medical/surgical masks; however, three-layer non-medical masks can be more comfortable to wear over longer periods and still offer good protection. Public health follows Ontario Ministry of Health guidance for KN95 and N95 masks.

When wearing a face covering or mask:

  • Immediately wash your hands before putting the face covering or mask on, before adjusting it, before taking it off and after taking it off. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to wash your hands. 
  • Make sure the face covering fits well, covering your mouth, nose and chin. The mask should fit your face, leaving no gaps on the sides.
  • Make sure your face covering or mask is secured to your head with ties or ear loops without the need to adjust frequently. 
  • Ensure that the pleats on the outside are facing down, if your mask has pleats. 
  • Gently mould the metal strip over the bridge of your nose to ensure a close fit, if your mask has one. 
  • Avoid moving the face covering or mask around or touching the covering while using it.
  • Do not share your face covering or mask with others, even within your own household.
  • Do not leave your face covering or mask tucked under your chin, hanging from your ear, or on your forehead.

Replace the face covering or mask as soon as it becomes damp, dirty, damaged or if it has shrunk after washing and drying.

Images of how to safely wear a mask or face covering

Filters add an extra layer of protection against COVID-19 by trapping small infectious particles. Filters can be made from:

  • non-woven polypropylene fabric
  • a disposable filter inserted into a pocket on the mask

For masks with a pocket, add a disposable coffee filter, paper towel, or reusable filter cloth. For masks without a pocket, cut/unstitch one end and tuck a filter in between the two layers. Check out how to make your own face covering with a filter.

  • Reusable masks with a non-woven filter layer should be washed daily, and can be washed multiple times.
  • Disposable filters should be changed daily or as directed by the manufacturer.

Wearing a face covering or mask can increase your risk of infection if you touch your face more frequently to adjust it or if you do not wash your hands before putting it on and taking it off.

When taking off a face covering or mask:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and then remove your face covering or mask by pulling the ties or ear loops away from your ears.
  • Put the face covering or mask into a bag to keep it separate from other items until it can be washed or thrown out in a lined garbage bin
  • If your face covering or mask has a removable, non-reusable filter, make sure to remove and throw it out before washing your mask.
  • To wash the face covering or mask, put it directly into the washing machine. Throw out the bag it was stored in. Wash your hands again with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after handling your face covering or mask.
  • Wash the face covering or mask with other laundry using a hot water cycle. No special soaps are needed.
  • Disposable masks should not be washed, reused or recycled.

When disposing of a damaged/dirty face covering or mask:

  • Throw it out into a lined garbage bin.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Do not leave any discarded masks in shopping carts or on the ground.

Face shields are meant to be used for barrier protection for the facial area and would not be considered a substitute for wearing a face mask or face covering. Face shields do not provide any filtering against respiratory droplets.  A face shield may protect the wearer against droplets expelled from another person, however, some of these droplets may still be inhaled around the shield.

Respiratory droplets expelled by the wearer may escape around the sides of the face shield, which therefore provides sub optimal protection to others.

If you choose to wear a face shield, it is recommended - if possible - to wear it in addition to a properly fitted cloth masks.

Clear plastic mouth shields are not a suitable face covering since they do not tight fitting around the mouth, nose and chin. Mouth shields allow infectious respiratory droplets to spread outside the mask, and do not help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As a better than nothing approach, the WHO recommends that if face shields are to be used, the wearer should ensure proper design that covers the sides of the face and extend below the chin. For certain populations, those with mental health disorders, developmental disabilities, deaf and hard of hearing community and children, the WHO supports the use of face shields.

Masks with an exhalation valve are not recommended because they may filter dust particles in the air as the person inhales, but they may not filter virus particles or respiratory droplets. This means droplets from a person can be spread in a room, reducing the benefit of the mask.

Respirators with exhaust valves are also not recommended. These are intended to make the respirator more comfortable for the person who is wearing it, but they can also allow respiratory droplets to spread in room. 

Clear plastic face masks that extend below the chin and wrap around the sides of the face may be considered when communicating with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing, to allow them to lip read. However, clear plastic face masks are not recommended for general use, as they do not cover the nose, mouth and chin without gaping and cannot be properly cleaned and disinfected between use.