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Face masks

Wear a face mask if it is hard to maintain 1.5 metres of physical distance from others or if you have COVID-19 symptoms.

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Situations to wear a mask

With community transmission occurring in the state, the NSW Government strongly recommends you take extra precautions to protect others.

It is really important that you carry a clean face mask with you at all times and wear it:

  • if it is hard to maintain 1.5 metres of physical distance from others
  • when in high-risk indoor areas such as public transport, ride share, taxis, supermarkets, shops, places of worship and entertainment venues
  • if symptoms develop while you are out of home
  • if you are out of home and notified by NSW Health that you are a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case (including if you have visited a location with a reported case and must self-isolate immediately)
  • when caring for or serving vulnerable people
  • if working in a cafe, restaurant, pub, club or other high-risk indoor areas.

Wearing a mask in NSW is not mandatory in the situations above. However, NSW Health strongly recommends people wear a mask when unable to physically distance, particularly in indoor settings, to keep everyone safe.

You should also wear a mask if you:

  • have any symptoms and are seeking medical care
  • are going to get tested
  • are in the same room as another person when you have symptoms or have been asked to self-isolate.

Masks help reduce community transmission

Wearing a mask helps to reduce community transmission.

One way COVID-19 is spread is when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks near another person.

The person infected with COVID-19 can be:

  • asymptomatic (doesn’t show symptoms at all)
  • pre symptomatic (not yet showing symptoms)
  • minimally symptomatic (showing mild symptoms).

If a person is infected with COVID-19, a face mask helps to stop them spreading COVID-19 when they cough, sneeze or speak.

A mask is not a substitute for good hand hygiene and physical distancing

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 and avoid crowds
  • washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap, or an alcohol-based hand-rub
  • coughing or sneezing into your elbow or tissue
  • staying home if unwell.

Masks protect other people

The main value of wearing a mask is to protect other people. If used correctly, masks may prevent sick people from infecting others.

If you are unknowingly infected, wearing a mask will reduce the chance that you pass COVID-19 on to others.

Even if you are wearing a mask, stay 1.5 metres away from others, if possible.

NSW Health strongly encourages everyone to wear a mask when unable to physically distance, particularly in indoor settings.

Vulnerable people should wear a mask at all times outside the house. Vulnerable people may be over 70, have a compromised immune system or have chronic medical condition.

NSW Health staff must currently 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.

Masks should not be worn by:

  • toddlers under 2 years of age and babies, as they are a choking and suffocation risk

  • children under 12 years of age, as they do not need to wear a mask and may not be able to handle it safely

  • anyone who has trouble breathing wearing a mask

  • anyone who is unable to remove the mask themselves without assistance

  • people assisting people who are deaf or hard of hearing (and their contacts), as for some people with hearing disabilities seeing the mouth is essential for communication.

Some people in the community may also have issues with wearing masks due to other health conditions. Be respectful to others as reasons for not wearing a mask are not always obvious.

Types of masks and where to buy them

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

Use masks made with a non-woven, melt blown polypropylene layer. Don't use masks with holes or a valve, as you will breathe out the virus if you have COVID-19. The main value of wearing a mask is to protect other people.

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

Be aware of fake masks. Increased demand for surgical masks is leading to fake masks entering the Australian market. If you require a medical-grade mask as a health care worker, you should only wear compliant masks. Masks that meet the Australian Standard (AS/NZS 1716:2012) or international equivalent:

  • have the manufacturers name, trademark or trade name on the mask
  • are certified by an independent body such as SAI Global, and have their licence number marked on the packaging
  • are certified by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), if from the United States of America.

Learn more about how to identify fake masks. Contact NSW Fair Trading if you would like to report a mask that you believe is defective, unsafe or not otherwise fit for purpose.

Cloth masks are effective in reducing transmission of COVID-19 to other people when they are made and worn correctly.

See instructions for how to make a cloth mask below. 

Many retailers, community organisations and individuals also sell reusable cloth masks.

To ensure adequate protection, cloth masks should have at least 3 layers of fabric:

  1. The outer layer should be a water-resistant polyester or polypropylene fabric such as a reusable supermarket bags (not plastic) or exercise clothing
  2. The middle layer should be high-grade cotton (such as bed sheets), polycotton (such as quilting fabric or a tshirt)
  3. The inner layer should be high-grade cotton (such as bed sheets) or polycotton (such as quilting fabric or a tshirt).

You will need more than one reusable mask as cloth masks are less effective when damp. Cloth masks should be washed after each use or at least daily. Reusing a cloth mask without washing it can lead to self-contamination and infection of the person wearing it.

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

Ensure the face shield covers the sides of the face and below the chin. Clean and disinfect reusable face shields after each use. Wear disposable face shields only once.

A scarf or bandana does not offer the same amount of protection as a well-fitted mask. Using a scarf is also an infection risk, because people keep wearing the scarf.


How to make a reusable cloth mask

Find instructions from NSW Health for making a cloth mask. These instructions are in line with advice from the Australian Government's Infection Control Expert Group


Wear your mask correctly

Tips on face masks

  • Wash or sanitise your hands before putting on or taking off your mask.
  • Ensure the mask covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose and against the sides of your face.
  • Refrain from touching the front of your mask while wearing or removing it.
  • Do not allow the mask to hang around your neck or under your nose.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Wash and dry reusable masks after use and store in a clean, dry place.

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). 

  1. Before putting on your mask, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Or use hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol. 
  2. Ensure you are using a new single-use mask or clean cloth mask. Do not reuse single-use 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 single-use 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 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.
  7. If you have a facial hair or a beard, consider shaving to help the mask fit better.
  8. If you wear glasses:
    • remove your glasses while putting on your mask
    • tighten the strings (if your mask has ties)
    • pinch the metallic strip or wire (if your mask one) and press down on your nose
    • wash your glasses with detergent and water to create a film to prevent fogging
    • use micropore tape (available at all pharmacies) to tape the mask along the bridge of your nose and cheeks
    • put a folded tissue across the bridge of your nose, then put your mask on top
    • consider wearing contacts.

You may use a single-use mask continuously for up to 4 hours, as long as it does not become moist, soiled or damaged. Do not store and reuse single-use masks.

For each new situation put on a clean single-use or cloth 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 your mask while you are wearing it. If you do touch it, wash or sanitise your hands.

If your single-use or cloth mask gets soiled or damp, replace it with a new one. 

  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, where possible, 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 with at least 60% alcohol.

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 hygiene. 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.

Last updated: 1 September 2020

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