Information on the use of masks and face coverings in the community including how they can help protect you.
Alert Levels update
Auckland and parts of Waikato are 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: 13 October 2021
On this page:
- Using masks and face coverings can help protect yourself and others against COVID-19
- Alert level requirements
- Types of masks and face coverings
- How to use a face mask safely
- Temporary removal of masks and face coverings
- Face coverings exemption advice
- At-risk people
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.
In general, we should all wear a face covering such as a disposable or washable mask whenever we leave our home.
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 guidance on using a suitable reusable or disposable mask or face covering see Types of masks and face coverings below.
For some people wearing a face covering is unsuitable due to a disability or health condition. See Face coverings exemption advice
For further guidance on face coverings visit the Unite Against COVID-19 website.
Read more about other ways of Protecting yourself and others from COVID-19.
In general, everyone should wear a face covering whenever you leave your home.
It is currently mandatory for people aged 12 and over to wear a face covering when taking public transport or going into businesses.
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.
For some people wearing a face covering is unsuitable due to a disability or health condition. For guidance see below and COVID-19: Information for disabled people and their family and whanau.
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.
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.
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.
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 for whom wearing a face covering is unsuitable due to a disability or health condition.
Some people will have an exemption card with them to show that a face covering is unsuitable for them. However, exemption cards are not mandatory, so some people will not have one with them.
It’s not always obvious why a face covering is unsuitable for someone, so it’s important to be kind, respect people’s privacy, and don’t jump to any conclusions.
People for whom a face covering is unsuitable need to be able to access businesses and services just like everyone else. Businesses should ensure they do not discriminate against people with disabilities that prevent them from wearing a face covering.
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.