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COVID‑19: How to protect yourself and others. Learn more

Frequently Asked Questions

A novel coronavirus is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified; for example the COVID-19 virus.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person to person, mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Spread is more likely when people are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).

COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community (“community spread”) in many affected geographic areas. Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.

The CDC provides an extensive list of FAQs on topics including how COVID-19 spreads, how it affects children and seniors, symptoms and testing, and much more.

Visit the How to Protect Yourself & Others page to learn about how to protect yourself from respiratory illnesses, like COVID-19.

Wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations. Cloth face coverings may slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.

While people who are sick or know that they have COVID-19 should isolate at home, COVID-19 can be spread by people who do not have symptoms and do not know that they are infected. That’s why it’s important for everyone to practice social distancing (staying at least 6 feet away from other people) and wear cloth face coverings in public settings. Cloth face coverings provide an extra layer to help prevent the respiratory droplets from traveling in the air and onto other people.

The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators.  Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance.

More information about cloth face coverings can be found on the CDC's cloth face coverings site.

To help ensure medical devices, including PPE are safe and effective, the FDA has established Quality Systems Regulations and Good Manufacturing Practices. Manufacturers are expected to use these regulations and practices to maintain consistent product quality and to guide performance testing to make sure that their products conform to recognized consensus standards.  For PPE, these standards may include for fluid resistance, leak protection, filtering capacity, or resistance to tears and snags.  When these regulations and practices are followed, they provide reasonable assurance that the device is safe and effective. 

FDA has also issued device-specific guidance for some products so that manufacturers understand the Agency’s expectations.  Search for FDA Guidance Documents

Both masks are coverings for the nose and mouth. But the level and type of protection they offer differ in several areas.

Masks fit loosely to the face and so don't offer full protection from viruses and other airborne pathogens. According to the CDC, Non-surgical masks may not provide protection from fluids or may not filter particles, needed to protect against pathogens, such as viruses. They are not for surgical use and are therefore not considered personal protective equipment (PPE).

On the other hand, surgical masks are fluid-resistant. They are disposable, loose-fitting, and create a physical barrier between the wearer's mouth and nose and his or her immediate environment. Although They are for use in surgical settings and provide the aforementioned protection form fluids, they do not give full protection from viruses and other inhaled airborne pathogens,.

Respirators are personal protective equipment that provides more security from viruses and airborne pathogens. When properly used, they ensure a snug fit and filter airborne particles that safeguard health care and essential workers, construction workers, and other wearers who need protections.  This CDC infographic compares surgical masks and N95 respirators.

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