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With some holdouts, states overwhelmingly require masks

This article was updated Feb. 5, 2021

President-elect Joe Biden plans to ask all Americans to wear masks for 100 days to slow the spread of COVID-19. This would be the first attempt to have a cohesive mask-wearing plan across the country. It’s a plan. A request. Not a mandate, of course, because there’s no law behind it. 

closeup of "No Mask No Entry" sign taped to a storefront in Queens, NY

It will be a hard sell in the 13 states that have no statewide mask laws. Within the states and cities that have laws, there are many nuances. Some require masks indoors and outdoors and some only indoors. Ages for children who are exempt vary from 2 to 12. New Hampshire with its state motto of “Live Free or Die” is one of the last states to enact a mandate, though it exempts students and teachers at school. 

Nationwide, many Americans who embrace New Hampshire’s motto resent and resist mask orders. This isn’t a new reaction. Seatbelts, motorcycle helmets, even masks during the influenza pandemic of 1918 were viewed the same way by many. 

As Biden tries to poise 100 days of nationwide masks as a small sacrifice to slow the spread, here’s a primer on the status of mask laws in each state (plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia). The one caveat most states share is that masks are not recommended for children under age 2 because of safety issues.

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The holdouts. These states have no statewide order though some cities have their own mandates:  

Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Tennessee.    

Alabama. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has extended the mask mandate several times but said at some point, “sooner rather than later, it will be up to each of us to do the right thing regardless of a government mandate or not.” The order calls for masks for everyone age 6 or older in indoor spaces open to the public, and outdoor public spaces where 10 or more people are gathered. 

Arkansas. The state’s order calls for masks to be worn indoors and outdoors when non-household members cannot be six feet apart. Children under age 10 are exempt.

California. The order requires masks inside any public setting and while outdoors if six-foot social distancing isn’t possible for everyone older than 2.

Colorado. Coloradans age 11 and older must wear masks in indoor public spaces and outdoors when six feet of social distancing isn’t possible.  Some counties can opt out if they have lower numbers of cases. 

Connecticut. The state order calls for wearing a mask indoors or outdoors in public places when residents can’t be six feet apart. 

Delaware. Delawareans age 12 or older are required to wear masks inside public spaces and outside in public settings if six feet of distance isn’t possible. 

District of Columbia. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s order requires people to wear masks when they leave home and are “likely to come into contact with another person.” 

Hawaii. Residents age 5 and older must wear a mask indoors and outdoors when physical distance of six feet from others isn’t possible. 

Illinois. Anyone who is over 2 must wear a mask in public when unable to maintain 6-foot distancing. Governor J.B Pritzer has stressed it’s very hard to be six feet apart on crowded city streets.

Indiana. Residents age 8 and older are required to wear a mask indoors in all public places and outdoors when they cannot maintain 6 feet of distance from others.

Iowa. Iowans age 2 and older must wear a mask if they are within six feet of others not in their household for more than 15 minutes indoors. So, people going inside a business or other building less than 15 minutes don’t have to wear a mask. Masks are not required for students and teachers in classrooms.

Kansas. In July, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly issued an executive order requiring masks in public spaces for residents over the age of 5. Counties, however, had the option to opt out and 24 counties did so. A new order in November, mandated counties create their own ordinance and if they did not, the state’s order is in effect. At least 50 have adopted their own mask mandates.

Kentucky. Though it has faced legal challenges, the state’s mask mandate has remained. It requires everyone age 6 and older to wear a mask inside public places and outside when six feet of separation is not possible.  

Louisiana. The statewide order calls for masks inside and outside when residents are within six feet of others.  Children under the age of 8 are exempt. 

Maine. In November, Gov. Janet Mills strengthened the state’s mask mandate to require masks for residents age 5 and older in indoor and outdoor public spaces, regardless of whether they are able to maintain a safe social distance from other people.

Maryland. Maryland’s mask order calls for masks inside and out in public spaces when it’s not possible to maintain physical distancing for residents over the age of 5.

Massachusetts. Updated in November, the state’s mask order requires face coverings for residents older than age 5 indoors and outdoors whether social distancing is available or not. 

Michigan. Masks are required in public settings indoors or outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible for residents over the age of 5. 

Minnesota. Residents age 5 or older must wear a mask in indoor public spaces and outside while waiting in lines.

Montana. An earlier mask order allowed counties to opt out based on the number of cases in each county, but now the order applies to the whole state. Everyone age 5 and older must wear a mask inside and out when social distancing is not possible.

Nevada. All Nevadans over the age of 9 must wear masks indoors and outdoors in public spaces.

New Hampshire. Everyone in New Hampshire over age 5 must wear a mask when social distancing cannot be maintained, indoors and outdoors, according to the statewide order. The state calls for local school superintendents to decide if teachers, staff and students must wear masks.

New Jersey. The state mandate calls for masks for residents over the age of 2 indoors and when residents can’t socially distance.

New Mexico. This was one of the first states to require face coverings be worn in public settings beginning in May for residents older than 3. The order now requires face masks even when exercising outdoors. 

New York. New Yorkers over age 2 must wear a face mask inside and outside in public if unable to maintain six feet social distancing. 

North Carolina. Gov. Roy Cooper has strengthened the state’s mask mandate requiring people over age 5 to wear a face covering in any indoor space regardless of physical distancing and outdoors if it’s not possible to stay six feet from others.  

North Dakota. Governor Doug Burgum did not renew North Dakota’s mask mandate in mid-January. This was one of the last states to mandate masks in November when hospitals were overflowing with COVID cases and near capacity. When the governor let the mandate lapse, he said less than 2 % of its hospital capacity was being used for COVID patients. Ohio. Residents age 10 or older must wear face coverings at all times in an indoor location that is not a residence and outside if they are unable to maintain a distance of six feet from others not in their household. 

Oregon. Residents 5 and older must wear masks in indoor spaces and outdoors if physical distancing is not possible. 

Pennsylvania. People age 2 and up must wear a mask, including in homes when people outside of their household are present even if they can stay six feet apart. Outside, they must wear masks when unable to maintain physical distancing.

Puerto Rico. Residents must wear a mask inside. They must wear masks outdoors in public spaces when physical distancing isn’t possible. 

 Rhode Island. Residents older than 2 must wear masks inside and out unless they can “easily, consistently and measurably maintain at least 6 feet of distance from other people.”

Texas. Texans age 10 and older must wear a mask indoors and outdoors when physical distancing isn’t possible. Counties with 20 or fewer active COVID-19 cases can apply for an exemption.  

Utah. People over the age of 2 must wear a face covering in public and whenever they are within 6 feet of someone from a separate household.

Vermont. Vermonters age 2 and older must wear a mask any time, indoors or outdoors, when it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of at least six feet from others from outside their household. 

Virginia. All Virginians ages 5 and older are required to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces. 

Washington. A statewide order requires residents 5 and older to wear a mask in indoor public spaces. It also requires face coverings outdoors when they can’t stay 6 feet apart from others

West Virginia. This was one of the last states to require masks inside if social distancing isn’t possible for all residents age 9 and older. Masks outside are not mandated.

Wisconsin. Masks are required for residents age 5 and older inside and in enclosed spaces outdoors such as park structures or outdoor restaurant settings.

Contact Katherine Snow Smith at Follow her on Twitter at @snowsmith.