COVID-19: Use of masks and face coverings in the community

Information on the use of masks and face coverings in the community including how they can help protect you.

Last updated: 21 December 2021

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Using masks and face coverings can help protect yourself and others against COVID-19

The Delta variant is highly transmissible so wearing a face covering is one of the main ways we can protect ourselves and each other from the virus.

Face coverings can protect you against the spread of infectious droplets and particles when an infected person speaks, laughs, coughs, sneezes or breathes (read more on how COVID-19 spreads).

Face coverings are one of a number of tools we have for stopping the spread of COVID-19, like staying home if you’re sick, keeping your distance from other people, cleaning your hands often, sneezing and coughing into your elbow, and keeping track of where you’ve been and who you’ve seen with the NZ COVID Tracer app.

For some people wearing a face covering is unsuitable due to a disability or health condition. See Face coverings exemption advice

See Personal Protective Equipment use in health and disability care settings for detailed guidance on the appropriate use of PPE by health care and support workers at all settings.

For further guidance on face coverings under the COVID-19 Protection Framework visit the Unite Against COVID-19 website.

Types of masks and face coverings

Reusable masks – fabric, washable

Re-usable fabric masks ideally have three layers of fabric and can be purchased through retail outlets, or online - or you can make your own.

The Ministry of Health recommends you should have enough (washable) face masks so each person in your family can wear one and wash one.

Disposable masks – non-medical masks and medical masks

Non-medical masks do not necessarily conform to medical standards. This means they are not used in medical settings.

Single use, disposable masks can be purchased from retail stores such as supermarkets or pharmacies. You may also be able to access disposable masks through relevant social services agencies or organisations in your community.

Medical masks are designed for use by health care workers. They are used in combination with other hygiene measures such as regular hand hygiene and physical distancing. They are not reusable and must comply to AS 4381:2015 or an international equivalent standard.

Dust masks – not recommended

Dust masks are not recommended as they have a one-way valve, which would allow droplets to spread if a person coughs or sneezes.

How to use a face mask safely

When wearing a mask, whether it’s one you purchase or make yourself, you need to know how to use it safely.

This includes how you put it on, what to do while wearing it, how to take it off and how to handle it and dispose of it safely after use to avoid the risk of infection.

For guidance visit How to use a face mask safely and the Unite Against COVID-19 website.

Temporary removal of a mask or face covering

There are times when you may need to remove your mask or face covering temporarily while you are outside your household bubble.

Remember to wash or sanitise your hands before removing your mask or face covering and putting it back on.

In situations where wearing a mask is a legal requirement, you can remove your mask or face covering for short periods of time for the following reasons: 

  • if you are someone who relies on New Zealand Sign Language and/or reading people's facial expressions, including lip reading, or need to communicate with someone who does, you can remove your mask or face covering to communicate, but you must maintain a physical distance of two metres
  • if wearing a mask or face covering in the workplace would create a risk to your health and safety, as determined through Health and Safety guidelines
  • in indoor environments where the mask or face covering is likely to get wet
  • when consuming food, drink or medication
  • as requested by medical or oral health professionals
  • in any situation where wearing a mask or face covering may provide a choking hazard, such as changing clothes
  • if it is raining and you cannot prevent your mask or face covering from getting wet.

Face coverings for deafblind people

We understand some people who have a disability or health condition may not be able to wear a face covering safely or comfortably, and that wearing a face covering is unsuitable in some circumstances due to the need for lipreading. 

In general, you should wear a face covering whenever you can. The Delta variant is more transmissible and face coverings are a way we can protect ourselves and each other. Where possible you must maintain a physical distance of two metres when you cannot wear a face covering.

If you need to remove your mask to communicate with a person who is deaf, hard of hearing or who is deafblind, you can. In a residential care setting you should discuss your requirements, and the requirements of staff and other residents, with the service provider before your visit.

Face coverings exemption advice

While it is currently mandatory for people aged 12 and over to wear a face covering when taking public transport or going into businesses, this does not apply to people with a physical or sensory disability, mental health or other health condition that makes wearing a face covering unsuitable.

Some people for whom wearing a face covering is unsuitable may have an exemption card that they are able to show; but having an exemption card is not a legal requirement and people who are exempt from wearing a face covering are not obliged to show an exemption card.

People for whom a face covering is unsuitable need to be able to access businesses and services just like everyone else. Businesses and others need to ensure they do not discriminate against people who are exempt from wearing a face covering.

If you are exempt, you can enter businesses. You should not worry if a business owner or employee approaches you to ask whether you are able to wear a face covering. They are just ensuring your safety and the safety of others.

Businesses who have concerns about whether someone is being dishonest may choose to involve the Police. People who refuse to wear a face covering and falsely claim to be exempt from wearing a face covering when they are not, could be liable for an infringement fee of $1,000; or up to $4,000 if the matter goes to court.

Read more information for people who are unable to wear a face covering and for businesses.

At-risk people

At raised alert levels, people at higher risk of COVID-19 are advised to avoid contact with the public, particularly if they have not been vaccinated.

If you need to go out, and feel you are vulnerable, you may wish to discuss with your health provider whether using a medical mask is best for you.

See COVID-19: Advice for higher risk people for information about who is considered to be at higher risk and on how to help keep yourself safe from COVID-19.

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