Face masks protect you and those around you
Wearing a face mask helps keep you and others safe. They are particularly useful when physical distancing is not possible.
We recommend you wear a face mask when visiting healthcare service providers. This is especially important when visiting people who are at higher risk of becoming seriously unwell, like:
- older people and kaumātua
- people living in aged residential care facilities
- patients in hospital
- people with other health conditions
- disabled people.
Face masks are also very useful when in closed, crowded and confined spaces with poor ventilation.
Spring and summer are the seasons when people come together socially more often, there are more large-scale public events, and people move around the country in bigger numbers.
During this time of year, we encourage you to wear a face mask when on public transport, around crowds of people, and when you have close contact with someone else, such as during face-to-face conversations.
To be effective, a face mask should:
- cover your nose, mouth and chin
- be well-fitting so there are no gaps above, below or on the sides
- be used correctly and consistently
- not be damp, damaged or dirty.
A face mask that is not worn correctly may become ineffective. It may not offer enough protection for you or those around you against COVID-19 spreading.
Choosing a face mask
Different types of face masks provide different levels of protection, depending on the type of mask. You should choose a face mask that best fits you and suits your needs.
There are several things you should think about when choosing a face mask for you. This includes:
- your risk of illness from COVID-19
- how well the face mask fits you
- layers and the filtration ability of the material
- comfort of the face mask.
Disposable medical face masks
Disposable face masks with ear loops or ties can offer better protection for a longer period than fabric face masks. Especially when you are in a higher-risk indoor setting.
These are the widely available ‘blue’ medical masks. They are often called ‘medical’, ‘surgical’ and ‘procedural’ masks.
For use in healthcare, they must comply to a certain standard. Many medical masks may not be certified to medical standards, but still provide effective protection.
You can find these at many retail stores, supermarkets or pharmacies. Some relevant social services agencies or organisations may also be able to provide some.
Getting a better fit
To make these masks fit better and get a snug fit:
- pinch the nose wire
- place a fabric mask over top
- knot the ear loops where they attach to the mask, then fold and tuck excess material under the edges
- try pulling the ear loops back and securing them with a hair tie or clip.
Try to avoid twisting the ear loop into a figure 8, as this will likely cause a side gap that could let virus particles in.
Double masking or layering can provide greater protection. The other layer, preferably a fabric mask, can help stop any leaks around the top and sides of the bottom mask.
Reusing a medical face mask
To reuse these masks, you can soak them in warm, hot or boiling water for a few minutes and hang them out to dry. You can do this up to 10 times.
When they start to show wear or no longer have a good fit, dispose of them in your general household rubbish bin.
Fabric, reusable face masks
You can use a fabric face mask. The effectiveness of fabric face masks can vary depending on the style and materials used.
You should look for reusable fabric face masks that have at least 3 layers and are made of tightly woven fabric, such as cotton.
Ideally face masks should also use 2 different types of fabric that still allow easy breathing but provide filtration and a good fit. Face masks with more than one layer will help contain any respiratory droplets.
You can increase protection of your fabric face mask by adding a ‘filter layer’ and a nose bridge wire to mould the face mask to your face. A filter layer could be a specific face mask filter or a cut-down disposable face mask to add to a face mask pocket.
Fabric face masks can still be effective for short periods of time in well-ventilated areas.
Washing your fabric face mask
Taking care of your face mask is important. You should wash fabric face masks daily after use, using soap and hot water, and completely dry them before using again.
You should have enough face masks to at least wash one and wear one. Check for wear and tear to make sure there are no holes and they are still in good condition.
Many stores and online retailers offer these types of face masks. You can also make your own but make sure it has at least 3 layers.
Disposable P2/N95 particulate respirators
Disposable high-filtration face masks or particulate respirators offer the highest level of protection when used correctly.
For people who are at greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19, the use of a P2/N95 face mask may be a better choice for you.
If you choose to wear this type of face mask, it is important to follow the manufacturer's instructions on how to mould these face masks to your face. You need to make sure there are no gaps and you have a tight seal against your face.
These face masks can offer hours of protection when in high-risk indoor settings where there is no or little ventilation. But they need to have a tight seal around the face to provide better protection than a well-fitting medical mask.
In healthcare settings, these face masks work best when a person is ‘fit tested’ to make sure they have the right type of face mask that suits their face.
Do not wash these face masks. These face masks have a special static charge that traps viruses. You can reuse these face masks several times if you leave them for a few days between each use in a cool, dry place. If they no longer provide a tight seal around your face, or are dirty or damaged, then you should dispose of them in your general household rubbish bin.
Particulate respirator face masks come in a variety of models, prices, availability and suitability. They are often identified by which international regulatory standard they meet.
- P2 is the Australia/New Zealand respiratory standard.
- N95 is the United States respiratory standard.
- KN95 is the Chinese respiratory standard.
- FFP2 is the European respiratory standard.
Face masks for children
Children aged 5 or under are generally not recommended to wear a mask.
Children between 6 and 11 years of age are encouraged to wear a mask at the discretion and supervision of their caregiver.
Choose a face mask for children that fits them best, is comfortable to wear and can be worn consistently. The face mask should cover their nose, mouth, and chin without gaps above, below or on the sides.
This can be a reusable fabric mask with 3 layers or a medical disposable mask. Many fabric masks (either purchased or made) come in child sizes.
For commonly available medical masks, you can use the knot and tuck technique to improve the fit to a child's face.
What face masks to avoid
These types of face masks or coverings provide very little protection against transmission of COVID-19.
- A face shield is not recommended to be worn instead of a face mask as it will provide very little protection against droplets or aerosols.
- Dust masks or particulate respirators that have a 1-way valve are not recommended as they can allow particles from you to spread to others.
- Masks that are showing wear and tear. If there is any thinning of the material, holes, or the ties or elastic loops can no longer keep the mask in place, you should replace it.
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