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Infectious Disease

Mask up, Alaska!

Masks protect others and help protect you too.

Many Alaska workplaces and stores require them of both customers and workers. It's important that workers continue wearing a mask even during break times if around others. DHSS urges mask wearing for the general public anytime you are near others outside your household bubble, especially if you are indoors. 

  • Please wear your mask correctly
  • Wash your hands before putting on your mask
  • Put it over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin
  • Try to fit it snugly against the sides of your face
  • CDC does not recommend use of masks or cloth masks for source control if they have an exhalation valve or vent.

If more people wore masks, we could slow the spread of COVID-19. Wearing a face mask is especially important because with COVID-19, people can be contagious without having symptoms or knowing they are sick. Masks cover the mouth and nose to prevent the spread of respiratory droplets, which could contain the virus that causes COVID-19.

Wear a mask - be a hero!

Wearing a mask is most effective when used in combination with other protective measures including:

  • Keeping physical distance from others (at least six feet)

  • Keeping social circles small and contacts limited

  • Frequent handwashing and disinfecting high-touch surfaces

  • Quarantining if you are well but have been exposed to the virus

  • Isolating from others when you are sick and getting tested

Public health measures like testing and contact tracing also help slow the spread of COVID-19, but those efforts won’t succeed without Alaskans also taking protective measures. 

Individual actions make a difference. From helping each other through earthquakes to clearing snow from a neighbor’s driveway, Alaskans take care of each other and have a strong sense of community. Wearing a face mask is another way to show you care and to protect those who are more vulnerable to serious illness

Want to understand why masks protect against COVID-19?

Check out this high-speed visualization from the National Institute of Standards and Technology that illustrates airflow when breathing and coughing. It does NOT show movement of virus particles but keep in mind that the virus causing COVID-19 spreads mainly through droplets emitted by infected people when they talk, cough or sneeze. 

You can be infected and spread the virus but have no symptoms. As you can see in the video, the masks that protect best are ones that are breathable, comfortable and fit snugly, made with a few layers of tightly woven fabric. But as you can also see in the video, wearing any mask over your mouth and nose is better than none at all. Your mask protects others and may also protect you. Cover smart, do your part, slow the spread.


 Watch NIST's video: Cover smart. Do your part. Slow the spread.


Do masks keep people safe?

When we talk, laugh, sing, yell or cough, we emit tiny droplets. These droplets can contain infectious droplets. Masks act as a simple barrier over the nose and mouth to prevent these droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people. One of the main reasons to wear a mask is to protect others. Your face masks protects others if you are infected and don’t know it, and also provides some protection to the wearer. DHSS has created a webpage summarizing scientific studies on the effectiveness of masks. We will continue to update this page as new information become available. 

Probability of contagion. very high: both unmasked, high: infectious and unmasked, medium: masked when exposed, low: both masked

Are masks required?

Some communities require masks in public settings. Please check with your local government if you are unsure. The State of Alaska strongly encourages the wearing of masks in public but has not ordered it. The CDC and the World Health Organization also recommend that people wear a facial covering over their nose and mouth in community settings.

How common is it to wear a mask?

It may take some getting used to but wearing a mask is becoming more common every day. There’s nothing political about wearing a mask. It’s just an easy way to help those around you stay healthy. Please be respectful and polite at all times; remember, the enemy is the virus, not each other.

What kind of face masks are we referring to?

Here are three basic types of masks:

  • Masks are easy to make or buy. Masks can be secured to the head with ties or straps or wrapped around the lower face. They can be made of a variety of materials, but generally, multi-layered masks made from tightly woven fabrics are considered more effective. They may be factory-made, sewn by hand, or can be improvised from household items such as scarfs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels.

  • Surgical masks are made of special material, but unlike N95 respirators, they don’t provide a seal around the nose and mouth, meaning smaller droplets may still be inhaled.

  • N95 respirators are made of special material that removes at least 95% of even the small droplets. They’re manufactured to fit with a tight seal around the nose and mouth so air and viral particles can’t get around the side of the respirator.

  • Face shields are not considered masks but are sheets of clear plastic that cover the forehead, extend below the chin and wrap around the sides of the face.

If don’t feel sick, should I wear a mask?

Yes. Many people with COVID-19 don’t even know they have it and can unknowingly transmit the virus for 14 days, or possibly even longer. Studies also show that people tend to be the most contagious with the highest viral load several days before they show symptoms, or just when they begin to feel sick. Even speaking is enough to spread the virus to others who are nearby. Also, even if you were recently tested and your result was negative, you could still get the virus later. All of these are important reasons to mask up, even if you’re not feeling sick.

Why do I need to wear a mask if I’m not high risk?

Small droplets emitted from the mouth and nose travel much farther than 6 feet and may stay in the air for an hour or longer, depending on air flow. People spending time together in close proximity may be exposed to these small droplets; wearing a mask can protect those around you and provides some protection to the wearer too. Even if you aren’t at risk for serious complications from COVID-19, wearing a mask helps prevent you from spreading droplets to others who may be at high risk, and prevents the spread of COVID-19 in your community.

When should I wear a mask?

Masks are most effective when used in combination with social distancing and other preventive measures.

A facial covering should be worn whenever you are in a community setting, especially where you may be near people and it may be hard to maintain at least six feet from others. These settings include grocery stories, pharmacies, retail stores, bars, restaurants, on public transit and even in public parks or on public trails where you are likely to be around others. 

Facial coverings become even more important in communities that are experiencing widespread COVID-19 illness. Remember, however, to continue to keep your distance even when wearing a mask.

Who shouldn’t wear a mask?

  • Children under 2 years old

  • Young children who are unable to wear one without assistance

  • Those who have respiratory problems when wearing a mask 

  • Anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance. 

ADA Accommodation

Some people with disabilities may not be able to wear masks due to health and safety concerns. Individuals who state they have a disability that prevents them from safely wearing a mask should be allowed to enter a health care facility if doing so does not place others at risk or offered reasonable modifications to access the health care services. 

Reasonable modifications may include:

  • requiring use of a separate area for entrance/exit, exam, or treatment;
  • scheduling these patients as the last appointments of the day; or
  • increasing provider PPE.

Please note modifications may not be an option if:

  • It would fundamentally alter the service provided.
  • It would create undue burden such as significant difficulty or expense.
  • The individual poses a direct threat to the health or safety of staff and/or patients.

How should masks be worn, removed and cleaned?

  • Keep the covering on your face the entire time you’re in public unless you need to remove it to eat, drink or scratch an itch.

  • Don’t touch the mask, and, if you do, wash your hands

  • When removing the mask, avoid touching the front of the mask (because it may be contaminated). Do not remove the mask until you return home. Remove it by grasping the ear loops, ties, or bands and immediately discard or place in a designated container for laundering. Wash your hands immediately after removing the mask and before touching anything else.

  • Wash masks in hot, soapy water between uses.

Mask up, Alaska!

How can I get a mask?

Masks can be purchased in stores or online. Local emergency operations centers and community groups may also have masks for those who need them. Here are some Alaska groups dedicated to making, distributing or sharing facts about masks:

When should I discard my mask?

Masks are intended to be cleaned and reused many times. But they don’t last forever. Discard them when:

  • They no longer cover the nose and mouth or can’t stay on the face

  • Have stretched out or damaged ties or straps

  • Have holes or tears in the fabric

How to make your own mask?

Masks can be fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost. There are a number of instructional websites and videos to help with making masks.

Are masks dangerous to your health?

Masks don’t cause enough carbon dioxide build-up to cause ill effects in otherwise healthy people. In fact, other masks like surgical masks or N95 respirators that have even tighter seals than cloth masks, are able to worn all day by hospital employees, farm workers and others who wear them for work. Be sure to wash your hands before and after touching your mask and wash it daily. Once you have a viral infection, wearing a mask does not make it worse or make it last longer. It does, however, help you keep from spreading or passing it on to others.

Resources from CDC


 Use of masks to slow the spread of COVID-19: CDC syndicated content


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