Wearing a face mask or covering can reduce the risk of infected people spreading COVID-19. Make sure you have enough non-medical grade masks or coverings for each person in your household.
When should I wear a face mask or covering?
Wearing a face covering helps keep you and others safe. It helps stop droplets spreading when someone speaks, laughs, coughs or sneezes.
Face masks or coverings are particularly useful where you are close to other people and it's hard to maintain physical distancing, such as on public transport, in shops or in other confined or crowded environments.
Alert Levels 1, 2 and 3
At these alert levels, face coverings legally must be worn:
- on all public transport, including on long-distance bus and train journeys and most ferries
- on domestic flights throughout New Zealand
- by taxi and ride-share drivers — while it’s not compulsory for passengers to wear them, you are strongly encouraged to.
Drivers and transport operators will not stop people without face coverings from boarding public transport. This is because some people have legitimate reasons for not wearing a face covering. However, where possible, drivers will encourage you to wear a face covering.
You are encouraged to also wear face coverings when you cannot maintain physical distance in crowded indoor places, like in supermarkets.
There are exemptions for some people.
Who does not need to wear a face mask or covering?
Face coverings don't need to be worn:
- by children under 12
- by students on school buses
- by passengers in taxis or ride-share services, but drivers are required to
- on ferry services carrying passengers between the North and South islands
- on charter or group tours
- on private flights
- by drivers, pilots, staff or crew of the service if they are in a space completely separated from passengers, eg, pilots in a cockpit or train drivers in a train cab.
You also do not need to wear face coverings if:
- it is unsafe, eg, if wearing one means a driver cannot safely operate the vehicle
- there is an emergency
- you have a physical or mental health illness or condition or disability that makes wearing a face covering unsuitable
- you need to prove your identity
- you need to communicate with someone who is Deaf or hard of hearing
- you need to take medicine
- you need to eat or drink.
Read more about when to wear face coverings at different levels.
How do face masks or coverings help prevent the spread of COVID-19?
A face mask helps stop droplets from spreading when someone speaks, laughs, coughs or sneezes. This includes someone who has COVID-19 but feels well or has no obvious symptoms.
Masks should be used along with other measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 including hand washing, cough and sneeze etiquette, not touching your face and physical distancing, and keeping track of where you've been.
What kind of mask or covering do I need?
To prevent community spread, you don’t need a medical-grade face mask. You just need a covering that will create a barrier between your mouth and nose and other people. Your face covering can be either a reusable and washable fabric mask or a single-use, disposable kind.
Single-use disposable masks
- A single-use face covering can only be worn once.
- Keep some with you all the time in case you need to use them.
- You need a few for each member of your whānau.
- You can buy them in supermarkets and pharmacies.
Reusable masks and face coverings
- Reusable fabric masks and face coverings can be washed and reused.
- You can make them out of what you have at home.
- If you choose reusable masks, you will still need a few for each member of your whānau.
- Store new or washed reusable masks in a clean resealable plastic bag until you need to use them.
- When you have finished wearing one, place it in the plastic bag to take home, and wash both the bag and the mask.
Reusable fabric mask
Single-use disposable mask
Fabric masks need to be made of a weave that is tight enough to be effective at containing droplets, while still allowing you to breathe easily. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests they should ideally have 3 layers:
- The layer closest to your face should easily absorb droplets from exhaled breath. For example, a woven or knit cotton fabric. Use a light colour so you can tell when it is soiled or wet.
- The middle layer acts as a filter. It goes in a pocket between the inner and outer layers. It should be made of fabric that repels droplets and moisture. Suitable fabrics include polypropylene.
- The outer layer should repel droplets and moisture. Suitable fabrics include synthetic or polyester mixes.
Learn more about fabric masks in the video from the WHO below:
How do I use a face mask safely?
The Ministry of Health has provided the following information on how to use a mask safely.
How to safely put on a face mask
- Check that your face mask is clean and dry and is not damaged.
- Clean your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser before putting on your mask. Ensure your hands are dry.
- Place the face mask over your nose and mouth and secure with ties or loops. Make sure the mask fits snugly, and is moulded to your face and around your nose. Make sure the mask fully covers your nose, mouth and chin. Your mask should be comfortable, with no gaps around the mask and your face, and allow you to breathe easily.
- Clean your hands again (as above).
While wearing a face mask
- Do not touch the front of the face mask. If you do, clean your hands and dry thoroughly.
- Avoid touching your face, as infection can still be introduced by touching your eyes or if you are not wearing your face mask correctly.
- Face masks should not be moved during use. This includes being pulled up or pulled down below your chin. If you need to remove your mask (eg, to eat), remove it safely, dispose of it appropriately (or wash it if it's a homemade facial covering or cloth mask) and clean your hands.
- Replace the face mask if it becomes damp, damaged or soiled.
How to safely remove a face mask
- Clean your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser. Ensure your hands are dry.
- Remove the face mask from behind (do not touch the front of the mask) by untying ties or removing loops and pull it away from your face. Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth when removing your mask.
- Clean or dispose of it appropriately (see below).
- Clean your hands again (as above).
Safely disposing of single-use face masks
- Dispose in a closed lidded bin or place into a bag and seal before putting into a rubbish bin or taking home.
- Clean your hands after disposing of the face mask with soap and water or use hand sanitiser. Ensure your hands are dry.
- Do not re-use or try to disinfect single-use disposable face masks.
Cleaning homemade facial coverings or cloth masks
- Wash the mask after each use in a washing machine with detergent at 60 degrees Celsius.
- After putting the mask in the washing machine, clean your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser. Ensure your hands are dry.
- Dry the mask completely before you use it again. Do not use a damp mask.
Can I make my own face mask or covering?
You can make a face covering easily and cheaply from material that you might already have at home. Find out how to make your own face covering in under 10 seconds without sewing, and how to sew your own face covering: How to make a face covering Unite Against Covid, NZ, 2020
How can I stop my glasses steaming up when I'm wearing a face mask?
One way to stop your glasses fogging up because of your face covering is to pull your mask up closer to where your glasses sit, then wear your glasses on top of your mask material. Your breath should miss your glasses when you do this.
If this doesn't work, take some time to adjust and tighten the face covering ties so that it sits closer to your face, then try again. You can also knot your mask ties to your glasses to help keep it in place.
Face coverings Unite Against Covid, NZ
How to make a face covering Unite Against Covid, NZ
COVID-19: Use of masks in the community Ministry of Health, NZ
COVID-19: How to use a face mask safely Ministry of Health, NZ
Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19 World Health Organization
When and how to use masks World Health Organization
Q&A: Masks and COVID-19 World Health Organization
Covid-19 Education Immunisation Advisory Centre, NZ