Face Coverings

In Waterloo Region wearing a face covering in enclosed public places and on transit is required by the Face Covering By-law and/or the Code of Use By-law in Waterloo Region. 

With the current Omicron risk, it is important to have the best mask fit and filtration possible. Optimal filtration can be achieved by wearing a non-fit-tested respirator (N95s, KN95s) or well-fitted medical mask. A well-fitted, three-layer, non-medical mask with a filter layer can be a reasonable alternative.

Make wearing a face covering or mask part of your regular routine. Face coverings or masks are an additional tool to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in community settings whether you are vaccinated or not. Even if you have no symptoms it can help contain your own respiratory particles when you talk, cough, or sneeze. When layered with other recommended public health measures, a well-constructed, well-fitting and properly worn mask can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Information on this page is for face coverings in community settings. Infection prevention and control and/or personal protective equipment requirements for educational and workplace settings are determined by the relevant provincial ministries (e.g. Ministry of Health, Ministry of Long-Term Care, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Labour) or federal authorities (for federally regulated workplaces).

Choosing the right face covering or mask

The effectiveness of all types of face coverings, including medical and non-medical masks and respirators depends on: material, construction, fit and proper use.

Face coverings should fit well (with no gaps) and be comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Non-medical masks should have multiple layers, including at least two layers of breathable tightly woven fabric, such as cotton, with an effective middle filter layer. 

Medical masks or respirators may be more appropriate in certain settings where there is greater risk of infection or severe outcomes. Medical masks or respirators are recommended for:

  • anyone who has tested positive for or has symptoms of COVID-19
  • people caring for someone who has tested positive or has symptoms of COVID-19
  • people who live in an overcrowded setting with someone who has tested positive or has symptoms of COVID-19
  • people who are at risk of more severe disease or outcomes from COVID-19
  • people who are at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 because of their living situation

Wearing a face covering is not a replacement for other measures.

Well-fitting face coverings or masks

How well a face covering or mask works also depends on fit. When choosing a mask, the Public Health Agency of Canada recommends you keep in mind:

  • masks with a flexible nosepiece may provide a better fit over the nose
  • the fit of the mask can vary depending on the size and features of your face
  • masks with ties or bands that go around the back of the head may provide a better fit
    • if choosing an ear loop-style mask, use one with adjustable ear loops or use the tips below to improve fit
    • a respirator worn in the community doesn’t need to have been formally fit tested as is required in some occupational settings

A well-fitting mask should:

  • be large enough to completely and comfortably cover the nose, mouth and chin without gaps and not allow air to escape from edges
  • fit securely to the head with ties, bands or ear loops
  • be comfortable and not require frequent adjustments
  • maintain its shape after washing and drying (for non-medical masks only)

Ways to improve fit include:

  • adjusting ties or ear loops
  • adjusting the flexible nosepiece
  • tying knots in the ear loops and tucking the sides of the mask so that it lies flat
  • using a mask fitter or brace
    • a mask fitter or brace is a device made of flexible material worn over a mask to help provide a snug fit
      • fitters and braces may be made of plastic or silicone
  • layering a well-fitting non-medical cloth mask over the top of a disposable mask to improve the fit
    • this will help to push the edges of the disposable mask closer to your face
    • make sure that you can still breathe easily when wearing two masks
  • keeping facial hair and beards shaved or short, if possible, so the mask can fit more closely to your face

Wearing a face covering or mask

We are recommending all residents, whether you’re vaccinated or not, wear face coverings or masks in the following situations:

  • In shared spaces with people from outside your household
  • In all indoor environments, especially enclosed spaces and in settings with poor ventilation
    • This includes settings where proof of vaccination is required and even if you are physically distanced, where possible
  • In crowded settings, indoors or outdoors

Face coverings exemptions

The Face Covering By-law exempts:

  • Children under the age of five; however, the Province of Ontario requires that children aged two years and older wear a face mask/covering
  • Those who are unable to wear a face covering as a result of a medical condition or a disability. Some disabilities are invisible so we ask people to respect that. The by-law does not require people to provide proof to support an exemption.
  • A person engaged in a sport or other strenuous physical activity.
  • A person who is assisting or accommodating someone who has a hearing loss or a hearing disability.
  • A person who is consuming food/drink as part of a religious activity within a place of worship.

No proof of any of the exemptions is required.

Show kindness to those unable to wear a face covering.

The Face Covering By-law also exempts the following establishments:

  • Federal or provincial buildings
  • Colleges, universities or schools
  • Hospitals or health facilities
  • Offices of regulated health professionals
  • Employee-only areas of businesses and other buildings
  • Outdoor areas in streets, parks, sports facilities and patios
  • Child care facilities and day camps
  • Care facilities for the elderly and people with disabilities

Face covering FAQs

Who should wear a face covering?

In Waterloo Region face coverings are required by by-law for anyone over the age of five (however, the Province of Ontario requires it for children aged two years and older) in indoor public settings. 

For more information review the Face Covering By-law.

Who should not wear a face covering?

Face coverings are not required for children under the age of five (however, the Province of Ontario requires it for children aged two years and older) or anyone who is unable to put on or remove a face covering without assistance or for whom a face covering would inhibit the person’s ability to breathe. 

For more information review the Face Covering By-law.

What type of face covering should I use?

Face coverings should fit well; have multiple layers, including at least two layers of breathable tightly woven fabric, such as cotton, with an effective middle filter layer. 

Medical masks may be more appropriate in certain settings where there is greater risk of infection or severe outcomes. Medical masks are recommended for:

  • anyone who has tested positive for or has symptoms of COVID-19
  • people caring for someone who has tested positive or has symptoms of COVID-19
  • people who live in an overcrowded setting with someone who has tested positive or has symptoms of COVID-19
  • people who are at risk of more severe disease or outcomes from COVID-19
  • people who are at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 because of their living situation
What material can be used as a "filter"?

When considering a filter-type fabric or material for the third middle layer of your face covering you may: 

  • Single-use materials including a tissue or  paper towel
  • Reusable materials include those made of fabric, such as a third layer of cotton or linen or a layer of breathable non-woven polypropylene fabric (such as that used for crafting)
  • Do not use plastic or non-breathable materials
Can I wear a face shield instead?

For those who can wear a face covering, a face shield is not a substitute. A face shield does not protect others from your respiratory droplets. 

A face covering helps to contain your respiratory droplets. A face shield protects you from other people's respiratory droplets. If you choose to wear a face shield, you must also wear a face covering that covers your nose, mouth and chin.

However, for those who cannot wear a face covering, a face shield is better than no face covering.

Will a face covering protect me from COVID-19?

Wearing a face covering helps protect others from your respiratory droplets. The covering works to contain your respiratory droplets when you talk, cough or sneeze. You are protected when others wear a face covering. 

Face coverings are not a replacement for other public health measures. You must continue to:

  • Stay home if you have any symptoms and get tested
  • Maintain physical distancing (at least 2 metres) whenever possible
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer 
Should I wear a face covering when I exercise?

When exercising outdoors, physical distancing is recommended. Wearing a face covering while exercising may make it more difficult to breath. 

When fitness centres are are approved to re-open, face coverings would be required by the Face Covering By-law. However, a person engaged in a sport or other strenuous physical activity would be exempt from wearing a face covering. 

Can I wear my face covering all day?

Your face covering may be worn all day, as long as it does not become damaged, damp or dirty. Make sure to clean your hands before you put on, adjust or remove your face covering. 

Do not reuse your face covering if it is moist, dirty or damaged. Do not wear your around your neck or on your ears between uses. 

Reusable face coverings should be washed with hot, soapy water whenever they become damp or dirty. 

How do I report someone for not wearing a face covering?

It’s important to keep in mind that Regional by-law enforcement will not be able to respond to all calls and will be focusing on education and compliance rather than enforcement. Business owners/operators can contact Region of Waterloo By-law Enforcement if non-compliance is significant and ongoing and additional educational resources and support are needed.

Please complete a by-law feedback form or call the Region of Waterloo Contact Centre at 519-575-4400.

Do I have to show proof I am exempt?
No proof is required to show you are exempt from wearing a face covering. The expectation is that individuals who self-identify as meeting an exemption should be allowed into an enclosed public place.

Additional resources

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