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Face masks

Wear a mask when physical distancing can't be guaranteed, if you have symptoms and are seeking medical advice, or if you are in isolation in the same room as another person. 

Latest health advice on face masks

2 August 2020

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant strongly recommends wearing a mask:

  • if it is hard to mainain 1.5 metres of physical distance from others

  • on public transport

  • in supermarkets and shops

  • in places of worship

  • in indoor venues with a higher risk of transmission, where practical

  • if working in cafes, restaurants pubs and clubs and other venues with a higher risk of transmission.

Wearing a mask in any of these settings is not mandatory but is highly recommended, especially in areas where there has been community transmission.

On this page

Why wear a mask

Wearing a face mask provides an additional physical barrier and helps to reduce community transmission.

COVID-19 is spread from close contact with an infected person and can be spread when a person coughs or sneezes.

A mask helps to contain droplets when a person coughs or sneezes, and reduces the likelihood of COVID-19 spreading.

A face mask is not a substitute for other precautions

Using a mask may provide a false sense of security. The use of a mask and only a mask will not prevent infection. 

Remember, the best ways to protect yourself and others against COVID-19 remain: 

  • practicing physical distancing

  • washing your hands

  • coughing or sneezing into your elbow or tissue

  • staying home when sick.

Who masks protect

The main value of wearing a mask is to protect other people. Masks prevent sick people from infecting others.

If the person wearing the mask is unknowingly infected, wearing a mask will reduce the chance of them passing the virus on to others.

For people at increased risk of severe COVID-19 because of older age or chronic illness, physical distancing is most important.

When to wear a mask

With community transmission occurring across the state, the NSW Government strongly recommends that you take extra precautions in some circumstances to protect others. Wear a mask:

  • if it is hard to mainain 1.5 metres of physical distance from others

  • when in high-risk areas such as public transport, supermarkets, shops, churches and other places of worship

  • when caring for vulnerable people

  • when working in cafes, restaurants and pubs.

If you have symptoms

Stay in isolation at home if you have any symptoms:

  • fever (37.5 ° or higher)

  • cough

  • sore or scratchy throat

  • shortness of breath

  • loss of smell

  • loss of taste.

Wear a face mask when in the same room as another person and to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus. Find a COVID-19 testing clinic and get tested.

If you are getting tested

If you have symptoms, make sure to wear a mask when seeking medical advice to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 to anyone else. 

If you are in self-isolation

If you are required to self-isolate, try not to be in the same room as another person. If you do need to be in the same room as another person wear a mask, even if they are also in self-isolation.  Avoid shared or communal areas and wear a mask when moving through these areas.

Comply with the NSW Health Self-Isolation Guidelines or the NSW Health Self-Isolation Guidelines for Persons with COVID-19 during your self-isolation and stay in self-isolation for the number of days required.

Health workers

NSW Health staff are required to wear masks if they are within 1.5 metres of patients to protect the patients. 

The NSW Government has distributed masks to health workers to meet current demand and is monitoring the supply of masks across the state.

Types of masks

Single-use masks (commonly called surgical masks) and reusable cloth masks both help to prevent the spread of COVID-19, if used correctly.

Single-use, surgical masks

Use surgical masks made with a non-woven, meltblown polypropylene layer. 

Do not buy masks that have holes or a valve. 

Buy single-use, surgical masks from reputable retail outlets including chemists, hardware stores and other shops.

Reusable cloth masks

Properly constructed cloth masks are made from at least three layers of breathable fabric to ensure adequate protection. You will need more than one reusable mask.

Face shields

A face shield is not a substitute for a mask. 

People who have limited ability to wear a mask may find it easier to wear a face shield.

Ensure the face shield fully covers the sides of the face and below the chin. Reusable face shields should be cleaned and disinfected after each use. Disposable face shields should only be worn for single use.

Scarfs and bandanas are not recommended

A scarf or bandana does not offer the same amount of protection as a well fitted mask. Properly constructed reusable cloth masks are made from at least three layers of materials, including a water-resistant outer layer.

How to make a cloth mask

Find instructions from NSW Health for making a cloth mask. These insturctions are based on advice from the Australian Government's Infection Control Expert Group

How to wear a mask correctly

Some people in NSW are choosing to use a mask when they are not able to physically distance. Wearing a mask can help prevent you giving COVID-19 to other people.

It's really important though that we use our mask correctly so that we reduce the risk that we're going to be contaminated or spread contamination around us.

The first thing we should do when we're about to put on a mask is to perform hand hygeine. That means giving your hands a really good clean so that you're less likely to take any germs from your hands to your face while you're putting on the mask.

The next thing we do is make sure that we put on the mask by making sure it's the right way up. We make sure that we've got our ear loops ready, then we put the mask on by touching an ear loop taking it across our face and putting it over the over ear.

We then need to adjust our mask to make sure that it's comfortable and so that we're not going to keep fiddling with it after we've done it. After we've touched our face, as always, it's a good idea to clean our hands.

When we're ready to take our mask off, because we've got out of that situation where we couldn't physically distance well, we need to be careful about how we take the mask off.

If it is a disposable mask like this one, please don't keep it to reuse it, make sure that you dispose of it.

If it's a cloth mask that you're taking off, you shouldn't wear it again that day. You should put it into a plastic bag, keep it safe so you can wash it at the end of the day. That's why you may need more than one cloth mask.

It's really important to do your hand hygiene before you go to touch your face and that you handle the mask only by the ear loops.

Your mask should cover your nose and mouth.

Your mask should fit securely around your face (that is snugly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose and against the sides of your face). 

Put on your mask safely

  1. Before putting on your mask, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Or use hand sanitiser that is made up of over 60% alcohol. 
  2. Ensure you are using a new surgical mask or clean cloth mask. Do not reuse surgical masks. Always use a clean and dry cloth mask. 
  3. Check the mask for defects, such as tears or broken loops.
  4. If you are wearing a surgical mask, position the coloured side of the mask outward. 
  5. If the mask has:
    • Ear loops: Hold the mask by both ear loops and place one loop over each ear.
    • Ties: Hold the mask by the upper strings. Tie the upper strings in a secure bow near the crown of your head. Tie the bottom strings securely in a bow near the nape of your neck.
    • Dual elastic bands: Pull the bottom band over your head and position it against the nape of your neck. Pull the top band over your head and position it against the crown of your head.
    • A metallic strip or wire: Mould the bendable metallic upper strip to the shape of your nose by pinching and pressing down on it with your fingers.
  6. Pull the bottom of the mask over your mouth and chin. Be sure your mask fits snugly.

Wear your mask safely

For each new situation put on a clean mask. For example, you might wear a mask on public transport until you get to work. You shouldn't reuse the same mask during your journey home. Carry clean masks in a paper or zip-lock bag with you.

Don’t touch the mask while you are wearing it. If you do touch it, wash or sanitise your hands.

If your mask gets soiled or damp, replace it with a new one. 

Remove your mask safely

  1. When removing your mask, avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth at all times. 
  2. Remove your mask outside and away from other people, if possible.  
  3. Carefully remove your mask by grasping the ear loops or untying the ties. For masks with a pair of ties, unfasten the bottom one first, then the top one.
  4. Dispose of single-use masks responsibly in the rubbish bin. For safety, put it into a sealed bag before putting it in the bin to ensure others won’t touch it.
  5. Wash and dry reusable cloth masks after each use.
    • Store in a plastic or zip-lock bag until you have an opportunity to wash them.
    • Wash cloth masks in the washing machine with other clothes or by hand using soap.
    • Lay out flat to dry (in the sun if possible) or put in the dryer. 
    • Store in a clean, dry place.
  6. After removing your mask, always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser containing at least 60% alcohol.

Last updated: 4 August 2020

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