Masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Updated:  March 21, 2022

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Why do masks continue to be an important layer of prevention against COVID-19?

The purpose of a mask is to act as a barrier. It reduces the chance of spreading respiratory droplets to others and prevents droplets from landing on surfaces. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, mask use has been researched. This research has consistently shown that a well-constructed, well-fitting mask, along with other public health measures, like physical distancing and staying home when ill, can reduce the transmission of COVID-19.

Masks are important for protecting the wearer, and those around them who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19, including

  • Unvaccinated
  • those without 3 doses of COVID vaccine
  • the elderly
  • medically-at-risk
  • immunocompromised

You cannot tell who is vulnerable based on looking at them.

Are masks required to be worn in Ontario?

After March 21, 2022, masks will not be required in many indoor public settings. High-risk settings will still require all individuals to wear a mask (some exemptions apply), including:

  • indoor premises and vehicles of public transit service,
  • hospitals,
  • long-term care homes,
  • retirement homes,
  • congregate care settings, and
  • clinics that provide health services.

Even if masks are not required in the setting you are in (example, social gathering at a residence on private property or while shopping), wearing a mask is an added layer of protection. Whether you are vaccinated or not, you should consider wearing one in shared spaces with people from outside of your immediate household.

What are the mask requirements for individual recovering from COVID-19 or individuals returning from international travel?

Provincial guidance requires those recovering from COVID-19 infection and those who are close contacts (but not required to self-isolate) to wear a mask when outside the home, including in school and childcare (except for those under two years old). In addition, current federal travel rules require travellers to wear a mask for 14 days in public settings upon their return from international travel. This includes children attending school and/or childcare after international travel.

What are the mask requirements for workplaces in Ontario?

In Ontario, businesses and organizations must follow the requirements listed in the Orders in force under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, as well as their requirements as employers under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). This means that employers must take every reasonable precaution to protect the health and safety of their workers. This includes protecting workers from hazards posed by infectious diseases. Each workplace will need to complete a risk assessment of each job category and ensure the appropriate hierarchy of controls are in place. This means that some workplaces may have enhanced masking or PPE requirements.

Use these resources to learn more about mask requirements for workplaces and how to keep workers safe. To learn more about PPE, click here.

What type of masks are required in community settings?

For most community settings in Ontario, a well-constructed, well-fitting 3-layer mask that covers the nose, mouth, and chin with no gaps will provide a good level of protection from COVID-19. There are circumstances when individuals may choose to wear a medical mask or respirator; particularly in indoor spaces that is crowded and has poor ventilation.

Use the resources below to learn how to select the right mask, how it should fit, and how it should be cared for:

NOTE: Face shields, bandanas, neck gaiters, and plastic mouth guards are not a suitable form of mask.

What is the best mask to wear to prevent transmission of Variants of COVID-19, such as Omicron?

All viruses change over time and can lead to variants. Variants are common with coronaviruses, and can become a variant of concern (VOC) when changes to the virus have a clinical or public health significance that affects the spread and severity of the disease, effectiveness of the vaccine, and/or issues with diagnostic testing.

Omicron is a VOC that can spread much easier than the original and Delta strains of COVID-19. It is also linked to lowering the effectiveness of the vaccine, and under certain conditions has the potential to contribute to aerosol transmission. Because of this, Public Health Ontario has recommended that masks worn while Omicron is circulating should have enhanced fit and filtration, particularly in settings with the 3 C’s (closed spaces, crowded places, and close contact). This can be done by wearing a well-fitted medical mask or a non-fit tested respirator (N95s, KN95s).  While these types of masks are preferable for these situations, a well-constructed, well-fitting 3-layer mask that completely covers the nose, mouth, AND chin is also acceptable.

Regardless of the type of mask chosen, you should always continue with other public health measures, such as physical distancing, staying home when ill, frequent hand washing, and reducing the number of close contacts.

For more information, visit:

What is PPE, and how is it different from a non-medical mask?

Personal protective equipment (PPE) are items worn to provide a barrier to help prevent the wearer from potential exposure to infectious disease. These items include:

  • gloves
  • gowns
  • surgical masks or surgical masks with visor attachment
  • respirators (e.g., N95 or KN95 masks)
  • eye protection (including face shields)

Depending on the type of workplace, employers may require their workers to wear PPE. When PPE is deemed a necessary control to protect against COVID-19 in non-health care workplaces, workers (at a minimum) will need protection of the mouth, nose and eyes. This means that a medical grade mask that meets certification by Health Canada and most likely eye protection (e.g., face shield or goggles), will be required. Cloth masks or disposable non-medical mask are not suitable for use as PPE.

If you determine that PPE is required in your workplace, you will need to:

  • train workers on the care, use and limitations of any PPE that they use; for a list of training resources, click here.
  • maintain your supply of PPE and make sure it is readily available to workers when they need it

How is PPE classified in Canada?

Personal protective equipment sold for medical purposes are classified as medical devices in Canada. Under the Medical Devices Regulations these medical devices are categorized the following way:

  • Class I: masks, respirators, gowns, face shields
  • Class II: infrared thermometers, gloves, personal protective equipment (PPE) decontamination devices, syringes
  • Class III: ventilators
  • Class IV: SARS-CoV-2 testing devices

Who can sell PPE?

There are different medical device authorizations depending on the role of the company (manufacturer, importer or distributor) and the class of medical device. Most of the PPE that you will need for your workplace are Class I devices, with the exception of medical gloves.

Class I medical devices can be imported or sold according to several mechanisms*, with the two more common mechanisms being:

  • the manufacturer or importer holds a Medical Device Establishment Licence (MDEL)
  • the device is included in the List of authorized medical devices for uses related to COVID-19 (other than testing devices)

Class II medical devices (e.g. gloves) can be imported or sold according to several mechanisms*, with the two more common mechanisms being:

  • the device is included in the Medical Devices Active Licence Listing (MDALL)
  • the device is included in the List of authorized medical devices for uses related to COVID-19 (other than testing devices)

*More information on additional mechanisms can be found at the Government of Canada’s website: Authorized medical devices for uses related to COVID-19: Overview

Authorized medical devices, MDEL holders or those who have received interim authorization are listed in one of the following lists or databases:

If the product or manufacturer is not listed in one of the above lists or databases, contact the supplier directly to obtain product details and their acceptability for distribution and use in Canada.

How should I train staff to safely put on and take off their PPE?

All staff must be trained on how to safely put on and take off their PPE. Use the resources below:

Where can I get more information about masks and PPE?