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Face masks in stores, cars, outside: Here's where you're expected to wear a covering

With businesses reopening, more than half of the states in the US require face masks or coverings when you go out in public. Here's what you need to know.


Some states and counties now have mandates for wearing face masks.

Angela Lang/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Now that many US states have reopened retail stores and restaurants, many cities, counties and states are taking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation to wear a face mask or face covering out in public one step further. Some are making it mandatory to cover up, enforceable in many places by a fine or arrest if you're not wearing your face mask where you should be. Even if there is no local ordinance to wear masks, some stores won't let you in unless you do

in April, the CDC changed its guidance on nonmedical masks, urging the general population to wear them as a "voluntary health measure." Homemade face masks and coverings may not be able to prevent you from acquiring the coronavirus, a respiratory pathogen, but they are thought to block larger particles from the coughs, sneezes or saliva of asymptomatic people. In other words, wearing a nonmedical covering is to protect others from you, and not the other way around.

The seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak -- with over 1.6 million confirmed cases in the US and over 5 million worldwide -- is prompting some local governments to make wearing masks obligatory. If everyone wears one, the logic goes, every asymptomatic carrier can help prevent transmitting the virus, which has caused over 333,000 deaths globally.

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It's recommended that you wear face masks in public places.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Where do you have to wear a face mask or covering?

So far, all of the mandates are requiring people to wear masks when going to essential businesses, hospitals, using public transportation and now retail stores, salons and some restaurants have been added to that list. These are places where there are crowds of people, making social distancing much more difficult.

Do I have to wear a face mask outside on a walk, bike ride or jog?

If you're outside on a walk or riding your bike, you don't have to wear a face mask, according to the states' orders. However, if you're within city limits, some orders say that you should bring a cloth covering with you in the event that you pass someone else at close range or decide to go into a shop. It's possible you could also be stopped and cited.

This is because you'll likely be around other people on the sidewalk and can expose them to the virus (or vice-versa). If you're exercising outside, it's best to choose an area that doesn't have much pedestrian traffic, like your neighborhood or outside of the city.

Do I have to wear a face mask in my car?

The mandatory face mask orders don't extend to your car. However, they still apply to situations where you're within 6 feet of someone outside your household. 

Should children wear face masks?

Most of the counties and states with mandates suggest that children wear face masks when going to essential businesses, starting between the ages of 2 and 9. It isn't recommended for children who have breathing problems or who are under the age of 2 to wear a face mask.

However, some areas like San Francisco, say that kids between the ages of 3 and 12 are not required to wear a face mask. And if they do, they need to be supervised by an adult. States like Maryland make it a requirement for children ages 9 and older to wear cloth coverings.

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Where are face masks mandatory?

Portions of 39 states, including New York, Maryland, Hawaii, Connecticut, Michigan and Pennsylvania now have face-covering requirements while in public areas. That means they will need to cover their nose and mouths with a homemade or purchased mask, a scarf, a bandana or similar. Here are some more examples.

California: Several counties in the San Francisco Bay Area now require people to wear face masks when they go out in public. The city of San Francisco has similar requirements, but only when its residents are entering essential businesses, when using public transportation, and seeking healthcare. The mandate is also in effect in Los Angeles and San Diego county.

New York: The state of New York's face-covering order is in effect in places where social distancing isn't possible, like public transportation. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the order will be enforced, and residents could be fined for not following the mandate.

Maryland: On April 15, Gov. Larry Hogan signed an order for Maryland residents to begin wearing face coverings in food and retail establishments and when taking public transportation. The order says this will be a requirement as long as the state of emergency is still in effect.

Pennsylvania is enforcing an order to wear face masks inside essential businesses. Those who aren't wearing masks will be denied entry into the business.

Hawaii now has a face mask mandate for those who go out in public. If anyone violates the mandate, they can face up to a year in jail or a fine up to $5,000.

New Jersey was one of the first states to mandate face masks to be worn while in essential businesses and public transportation.

Connecticut residents must now wear face masks when out in public places where social distancing isn't possible, including essential workplaces.

Michigan residents are now required to wear a face mask in enclosed public areas, like the grocery store. All businesses are required to provide their employees with masks to wear while working.

As of May 1, Illinois residents are now required to wear face masks while out in public.

Kentucky residents are officially required to wear face masks while in essential businesses.

It's now a requirement to wear a face mask in Denver, Colorado when you go to essential businesses, healthcare facilities and while using public transportation.

Other cities in states like Texas and Oklahoma have had face mask mandates for several weeks now. Laredo, Dallas and San Antonio cities are fining residents $1,000 for not wearing a face covering in congested areas, like a public building or gas station. Guthrie, Oklahoma made it mandatory to wear cloth masks within city limits.

Other states with mandates are Alabama, Alaska, ArizonaArkansas, Delaware, FloridaGeorgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, MississippiNebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New MexicoNorth Dakota, OregonRhode Island, Utah, Vermont, VirginiaWashington, West Virginia and Wyoming.

This is an ongoing list that we'll continue to update regularly. For more information on how to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, here's what you should know about making cloth coverings at home, where you can buy face masks online and what to do if you or someone you live with gets coronavirus.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.