The CDC now requires masks for travel in the U.S. Here are some of our favorite masks for all your travel and around-town needs—from masks that are great for air travel to masks with SPF protection that are ideal for outdoor adventures.
This is a developing story. For up-to-date information on traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
Wearing masks is now mandatory in all transportation hubs and on all public modes of transportation, according to a January 29 order issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The order is effective as of February 2, 2021, and remains in effect until further notice. It makes official a mask mandate that was signed by President Joe Biden on January 21, marking the first time the federal government established an official directive on mask wearing during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Appropriately worn masks reduce the spread of COVID-19,” the CDC order states. The agency notes that masks help prevent transmission of virus droplets exhaled by those who have COVID-19, including those who are not symptomatic—it’s estimated that presymptomatic or asymptomatic transmissions account for more than 50 percent of transmissions.
“Masks also provide personal protection to the wearer by reducing inhalation of these droplets,” the CDC states.
Children under the age of two should not wear a face mask. Those with a disability that prohibits them from wearing a mask are also exempt from the order.
Note that masks are not meant to replace social distancing and additional public health measures that have also been put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. They are meant to be an added line of defense.
Where are masks required?
According to the CDC order, masks are now required on and in airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and rideshares traveling into, within, and out of the United States. They are also required in the country’s transportation hubs, including airports and seaports and train, bus, and subway stations.
Biden has also signed an Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing that applies to federal employees, buildings, and lands. Federal lands include the country’s National Park System, a network of 423 national parks, monuments, memorials, historic sites, and nature reserves.
All major U.S. airlines have already been requiring passengers to wear face masks since May—and travelers could be prohibited from flying or have their flying privileges revoked if they don’t comply. International carriers require masks as well. You should check with your airline for what the latest requirements are before flying, including specific types of masks that are and are not allowed on your flight.
Masks can be briefly removed while eating, drinking, or taking medication; to verify someone’s identity such as during Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport screenings; and when oxygen masks are required on an aircraft.
What kind of masks does the CDC say we should wear?
The CDC now recommends that for those wearing cloth masks, the masks “should be made with two or more layers of a breathable fabric that is tightly woven (i.e., fabrics that do not let light pass through when held up to a light source)”—that goes for gaiters, too, which should have two layers of fabric or be folded into two layers, according to the agency.
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Medical masks, such as surgical or N95 respirator masks, also pass muster—though the agency asks that we try to reserve these masks for health-care workers so that we don’t deplete the supplies for those who are in direct contact with COVID-19 patients and thus are at the highest risk of exposure.
According to the CDC, these masks or face coverings do not meet the agency’s mask requirements:
- Face shields
- Scarves, ski masks, balaclavas, or bandannas (if these need to be worn for warmth, they should be worn over the mask, not in lieu of one)
- Turtleneck collars pulled up over the mouth and nose
- Masks containing slits, valves, or punctures
How to properly wear a cloth mask
In order for a cloth mask to be effective, it needs to be worn properly. It should cover your mouth and nose area and stretch from just below your eyes to down under your chin. On the sides, it should cover about half of your cheek area, the CDC advises. It should fit snugly but comfortably and be secured by being tied behind your head or looped around your ears. It should allow for easy breathing.
Cloth face masks should be washed regularly (throwing them in the washing machine will suffice, according to the CDC), and when you remove them you should take care not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth and wash your hands immediately after.
Where can I buy a face mask?
There are countless companies now making face masks, and the best part is that many of the companies that have rushed to fill the mask void are donating proceeds to organizations working to fight the coronavirus pandemic or to those in need—some are even supplying masks in kind to health-care and frontline workers. Here are some of the masks we’ve come across that we love, both in look and mission.
Summersalt face coverings
Buy Now: $32 for a three-pack, summersalt.com
Several AFAR staffers own these simple but super cute masks from St. Louis–based sustainable swimwear brand Summersalt, and they get unanimous approval. The style and fit (catered more to women) make them very versatile—they would be great on a plane or train or around town. The inside layer is cotton, and the outer layer is a mix of recycled polyamide and elastane (or what we would call “swimsuit-y” material). They are reusable and machine washable and most importantly have adjustable ear loops for an ideal fit. For every set sold, Summersalt will donate a mask to a “worthy organization”—and it has asked patrons to suggest groups that could benefit (you can DM the company on Instagram @summersalt with a recommendation).
Marine Layer super-soft masks
Buy Now: $25 for a five-pack, marinelayer.com
The San Francisco–based purveyor of super-soft tees is making masks from two layers of its trademark addictively soft fabric. These are the tie-back kind (better as backups than for everyday use) and come with a filter pocket. The colors vary. They also sell sports masks ($25 for a three-pack) made from a stretchy, quick-drying fabric and constructed with adjustable over-the-ear loops. In addition, Marine Layer offers the option to purchase a set of masks for donation: $25 will result in 10 masks donated.
Hedley & Bennett’s Wake Up and Fight masks
Buy Now: $22, hedleyandbennett.com
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, this Vernon, California–based manufacturer of must-have aprons switched production gears to make face masks. When you buy a mask, two will be produced—one for you and one that will be donated to a frontline worker. These are washable and reusable, nonsurgical cotton masks with a filter insert. The ear loops are adjustable, and we can attest that these are extremely durable, versatile, and well-fitting masks.
Everlane’s the 100% Human face mask
Buy Now: $25 for a five-pack, everlane.com
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Our favorite San Francisco–based ethical denim and fashion label is selling these comfy cotton masks with “100% human” printed in the corners “to remind us of our humanity,” according to Everlane. Ten percent of all face mask sales go to the ACLU. They are reusable and feature ear loops. The masks come in a set of five black masks, five gray masks, five tie-dye masks, or a set that includes three gray and two black masks. They also sell smaller versions of the same face masks designed for children ages 3 to 12 years old. Because they come in sets of five, these are great for packing extras in your purse, backpack, carry-on bag, or suitcase for use around town or on the road.
Londre nonmedical face masks
Buy Now: $35 for a two-pack, londrebodywear.com
For every two-pack of masks you purchase from this conservation-based and women-led Canadian bathing and body suit company, Londre will donate a healthy meal to a single mother–led family in need. The masks come in a desert sage or blush rose color, are adjustable (with ties) and reusable, and have a pocket that allows you to insert an extra filter. They are made from what the company describes as “a silky, anti-bacterial and moisture-wicking polyester made from recycled plastic bottles” and their interiors are lined with organic cotton. We like these for when you simply want to look and feel a little more polished in your mask.
For Days double-layer cotton masks
Buy Now: $25 for a five-pack (includes a donation of five masks), fordays.com
The Los Angeles–based zero-waste clothing company For Days is selling five-packs of reusable double-layer organic cotton masks, the purchase of which includes a donation of five masks to essential workers. The masks have a pocket for a filter to be added if preferred and are outfitted with elastic loops that go over the ears. These solid unisex masks are great for every day.
Uniqlo AIRism face masks
Buy Now: $15 for a three-pack, uniqlo.com
These Uniqlo face masks are made from an anti-microbial AIRism fabric that wicks away moisture and comes with a UPF 40 to block 90 percent of ultraviolet rays, making these great for bike-riding, running, hiking, or other outdoor activities. Each mask features triple-layer construction with a built-in filter at the center that retains its efficacy even after going through a machine washer. Available in white, black, and gray, these masks come in three sizes to fit both children and adults.
Evolvetogether disposable face masks
Buy Now: $9 for a seven-pack, evolvetogether.com
If you’re looking for a more stylish alternative to the basic blue disposable face masks, Evolvetogether makes them in several different colors. These masks feature soft ear loops, an adjustable nose bridge for a secure fit, and three layers, including a water-resistant outer layer, a melt blown center, and a water absorbent inner layer. For every black “We Stand Together” mask sold, the company donates one mask to the ACLU and Covenant House New York to help protect Black Lives Matter protesters and homeless youth. These masks also come in olive green, white, and are also sold in 30-packs and kid sizes.
Buy Now: Prices vary, etsy.com
Support small businesses and local entrepreneurs by buying a homemade mask on Etsy. We love the simple but sweet patterns on these organic cotton fleece masks.
This article originally appeared on January 24, 2020, and was updated on February 1, 2021, to include current information.
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