Face Coverings and Masks

Face Coverings and Masks By-Law 20-155

Wearing a mask or face covering will be required in enclosed public spaces beginning July 20, 2020 under City of Hamilton By-Law 20-155. The mask or face covering should cover your nose, mouth and chin, without gapping. Wearing a mask or face covering is an additional measure we can take to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and keep each other safe. This means that, with some exceptions, all persons, including customers and/or visitors entering an enclosed premise are required to wear a mask or face covering while in the enclosed space.

Learn more about Face Coverings and Mask By-law

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 are going out and might come into close contact with other people, they should wear a face covering or mask. When other people wear a face covering or mask, they are helping to protect you as well. 

It is recommended that you use a face covering or non-medical mask to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 when physical distancing (keeping at least two metres from others) may not be possible.

When you wear a face covering or mask, you help to protect others. When others wear a face covering or mask, they help to protect you. The best way to protect yourself is to:

  • Minimize the number of trips/time in public spaces
  • Avoid close contact with others and keep at least two metres from others outside your household
  • Wash your hands regularly (or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available)
  • Practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette (for example, sneeze and cough into your sleeve and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth)

How to wear face coverings

Non-medical masks or face coverings should:

  • 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 
    • A third (middle) layer of filter-type fabric, such as non-woven polypropylene fabric. A third layer provides added protection.
  • If you have 2-layer non-medical masks, you can continue to use them. If you are making or buying more masksconsider the 3-layer mask for improved protection
  • Read more on 2 and 3 layer non-medical masks
  • Be large enough to completely and comfortably cover the nose and mouth without gaping
  • Be comfortable to avoid the need for adjustments when wearing
  • Maintain their shape after washing and drying
  • Not contain non-breathable materials such as plastic

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

How to properly wear a mask


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.

Removing & disposing of face coverings

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.

Evidence shows that mask use supported by societal norms and government policies is associated with less mortality from COVID-19.

  • Wearing any mask helps to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
  • Benefits are increased when masks are worn properly (securely cover the nose, mouth and chin without gapping).
  • Mask use should be combined with other protective measures, such as physical distancing, hand washing, not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands, and staying home if you are sick.

Read more evidence on face coverings

As businesses and public spaces open up and people return to work and school, contact with other people increases and the risk of infections and outbreaks from COVID-19 increases. The risk of spreading COVID-19 is greater indoors where there is less air flow and ventilation, more crowding, and greater chance of touching surfaces contaminated by respiratory droplets. Wearing a face covering or mask indoors helps prevent spreading of germs to others.When you wear a mask or face covering, you help to protect others. When others wear a mask or face covering, they help to protect you.

Increasing scientific evidence supports wearing a mask when in enclosed public spaces as an important measure in reducing COVID-19 spread, while the risk of infection continues.

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.

Face shields and mouth shields do not comply with the City of Hamilton Face Covering By-law. 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.

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