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How masks can help prevent COVID-19

6-minute read

If you develop symptoms such as severe shortness of breath or chest pain, call triple zero (000) immediately. Tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival if you have COVID-19.

Quick read

How to avoid catching COVID-19 including getting vaccinated, wearing masks and physical distancing.

Does wearing a mask reduce my risk of COVID-19?

Yes, surgical and cloth masks help stop droplets spreading when people talk, cough and sneeze. This reduces the risk of spreading COVID-19.

If you have, or suspect you have, COVID-19, you should wear a fitted, surgical mask when you are near other people.

What type of mask should I use?

Different types of masks offer different levels of protection. The highest level of protection is offered by P2 and N95 surgical masks.

You should opt for a high level of protection if you are going to be exposed to people who are vulnerable to severe COVID-19, this includes older people.

Certain masks are only at their most effective for a single use or a limited amount of time.

How do I wear a mask correctly?

Before and after you put on your mask, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or use a hand sanitiser containing more than 60% alcohol.

While wearing a mask, you should continue to wash your hands frequently. Avoid touching your face or the mask.

If your mask has a metallic strip, pinch and press it to mould to your nose shape. Pull the bottom of the mask over your mouth and chin so it fits securely.

You can take your face mask off when eating or drinking. You should maintain physical distancing of 1.5m and practise good hygiene. If you need to take a mask off for eating or drinking, it’s best if you put on a new face mask. If this is not possible, clean your hands before and after touching it.

infographic on how to wear a mask
You can download this infographic in PDF format, or go here for a text version.

Surgical masks (single use)

Before putting the mask on, check for tears. If undamaged, position the coloured side of the mask outward.

Replace a surgical mask with a new one if it becomes soiled or damp. Do not reuse single-use masks.

Taking off your mask

Wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Don't touch the front of the mask. Use the ear loops or untie the bow to remove it. If your mask has a pair of ties, undo the bottom one first, then the top.

If the used mask is disposable, dispose of it safely and immediately.

Cloth masks

Dispose of any filters. Put your mask in the laundry straight away or a plastic bag until you can wash it. Make sure you dispose of the bag. It is preferable for a cloth mask to have 3 layers.

infographic on how to wash a cloth mask
You can download this infographic in PDF format, or go here for a text version.

Is it compulsory to wear a mask?

Your state or territory will decide whether you must wear a mask and under what conditions.

Not all states and territories have the same rules. Check the rules and recommendations for masks in your state or territory government's latest rules, exceptions and exemptions.

Can my employer make me wear a mask?

Your employer can make you wear a mask at work if they, in consultation with employees, decide it is necessary to minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

You should also closely monitor any information provided by your state or territory government and ensure the rules are followed in your workplace.

Is it compulsory to wear a mask at airports and on airplanes?

Face masks are no longer required on international flights to and from Australia.

States and territories have also lifted mask rules for domestic flights and airports.

However, you should check with your airline and the countries you are traveling through for their rules on face masks on flights, as they might have different requirements which you must follow.

Where can I get masks?

Your healthcare provider will give you a surgical mask to wear when you enter a hospital emergency department or clinic if they suspect that you have COVID-19 — if you don't already have one. The hospital or clinic can also advise you on how to fit and wear masks.

You can purchase reusable and surgical masks from retailers like chemists and hardware stores. You can also make your own cloth mask.

Healthcare providers can get information about acquiring masks and other personal protective equipment, PPE, on the Australian Government Department of Health website.

Should I buy masks online?

There is a huge number of masks for sale online, but they vary in quality. Also, if you buy a mask, you might not know if it will fit you properly.

For these reasons, it is much safer to purchase a cloth or surgical mask from retailers like chemists.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2023

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