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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.

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

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.

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.

When you go out, carry a paper bag or zip-lock (plastic) bag with you to keep fresh or spare masks clean.

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.

Cloth mask

It is preferable for cloth masks to have 3 layers. A cloth mask should cover your nose and mouth. It should fit securely on your face with either ear loops or mask strings tied into a bow at the back of your head.

You should change a cloth mask as soon as it becomes visibly wet or dirty. After taking your mask off, store it in a plastic bag until you can wash it.

Surgical mask (single use)

Before putting the mask on, check for tears. If undamaged, position the coloured side of the mask outward. If the mask has a metallic strip, make sure it sits against the bridge of your nose.

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

Mask fastening

Ear loop mask

Hold the mask by both ear loops and place one over each ear.

Tie mask

Hold the mask by the upper strings. Tie the upper strings together near the crown of your head. Tie the lower strings near the nape of your neck.

Dual-elastic band masks

Pull the lower band over your head to the nape of your neck. Pull the upper band over your head to the crown of your head.

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. Do not touch your mask or face once you have put it on.

Download this infographic in PDF format to print it

infographic on how to wear a mask

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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.

Cloth mask

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.

Surgical mask

Dispose of your surgical mask immediately and responsibly.

Clean your hands after you remove your cloth or surgical mask.

Download this infographic in PDF format to print it

Click to check how to wash a cloth mask

Read the embedded text separately

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 necessarily have the same rules and situations change rapidly. Check your state or territory government's official COVID-19 website for the latest rules, exceptions and exemptions.

RESTRICTIONS — Use the COVID-19 Restriction Checker to find out what you can and can't do in your state or territory.

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. If your employer directs you to wear a mask they should be able to provide them.

There are already strict rules in place for workers in some settings such as aged-care facilities.

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?

Check the Travel page on the Restriction Checker for each state and territory’s face mask rules, exemptions and exceptions.

You should also 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. Some will give you or others almost no protection.

Masks and face coverings need to cover your mouth and nose properly and fit your face securely. You might not know if this is the case if you buy one online without inspecting it.

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: September 2022

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