Cloth face masks may provide some added protection against Covid-19 for those who must leave their homes for essential activities, but they are not a substitute for social distancing and frequent hand washing, according to California public health officials.

“Face coverings are not a substitute for physical distancing or frequent hand washing, which we know are amongst the most effective ways to reduce the spread of Covid-19,” said Dr. Sonia Angell, director of the state Department of Public Health. “Wearing a cloth face covering could provide some additional benefit by acting as a reminder for other people to keep their distance, and it could help reduce the spread of infectious particles from those who could be infected but don’t have symptoms.”

Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of California Health and Human Services, also cautioned against a false sense of security with face masks. While face coverings could provide some additional protection, “Californians should not have a false sense of security if they choose to wear them,” Ghaly said. “Make sure you’re also staying 6 feet away from other people if you have to leave your home to get groceries or prescriptions.”

While potentially helpful, the latest guidance from the state does not require Californians to wear face masks, and urges most people not to use N-95 or surgical masks, which are needed by health-care workers and first responders.

According to public health officials, the best defense against the spread of Covid-19 continues to be: 

Staying at home and physical distancing

Washing hands frequently

Avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands

Avoiding being around sick people

The guidance from the state is available at the California Department of Public Health website,