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.

Alert Levels update

Auckland is at Alert Level 3. The rest of New Zealand is at Alert Level 2.

Information about what to do at different alert levels can be found on the Unite Against COVID-19 website.

Last updated: 23 September 2021

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Alert Level requirements

In general, everyone is encouraged to wear a mask or face covering whenever you leave your home and cannot maintain physical distance from others, especially in crowded indoor places. Masks or face coverings are one way of protecting ourselves and each other from COVID-19 amongst other hygiene measures.

The Ministry recommends that health, disability and support workers providing care in health and disability settings wear medical masks at Alert Level 2 and above. This includes school nurses and workers providing care to people in their own homes or in Disability and Aged Residential Care Facilities. Additional PPE requirements such as a P2/N95 particulate respirator, eye protection, gown and gloves may apply when interacting with a person who meets the clinical criteria for COVID-19 and has one or more risk factors.

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 Alert Levels.

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

Wearing masks and face coverings is one way of keeping yourself safe and protecting others from COVID-19, especially when physical distancing is not possible and in confined or crowded environments.

Masks 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).

Use a suitable reusable or disposable mask or face covering. See Types of masks and face coverings.

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

Some people cannot wear a face covering, such as those who have a disability or health condition, and may not be able to wear a face covering safely or comfortably. See the Unite Against COVID-19 website for information about exemptions from face covering requirements.

Read more about other ways of Protecting yourself and others from COVID-19.

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, or visual facial cues such as 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 2 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.

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.

In this section

  • If you choose to wear a face mask – 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 safely after use to avoid the risk of infection. Read more
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