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How masks can help prevent COVID-19

10-minute read

IMPORTANT: If you have severe difficulty breathing, call triple zero (000) immediately and tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival about your recent travel history and any close contact with a person with confirmed or probable COVID-19.


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

Cloth and surgical masks help stop droplets spreading when people talk, cough and sneeze, which reduces the risk of spreading the virus.

However, if you are generally healthy and not caring for a person with confirmed or probable COVID-19, it is not recommended that you wear a face mask if there is no community transmission. There is little evidence supporting the widespread use of masks by healthy people in areas with no community transmission.

If you are ill, though, you should wear a mask to prevent spreading the infection to others.

Further, if you live in a COVID-19 hotspot and leave home for an essential reason, you may have to wear a cloth or surgical mask in public — if you are aged 12 or older.

You may also live in an area where people are urged to wear a mask in public. It is especially important to wear one in these areas if you cannot reliably stay 1.5 metres away from others.

Check the restrictions in your state or territory to see if you are legally required or urged to wear a mask.

What type of mask would I need?

If you suspect you are ill with COVID-19, you should wear a surgical mask when you are near other people. Surgical masks are only helpful in preventing the spread of coronaviruses to others if you have a confirmed or probable infection. Surgical masks must also be used alongside frequent hand washing with soap and water (for 20 seconds) or alcohol-based hand rub ('hand sanitiser').

If you are well and are not caring for a person with confirmed or probable COVID-19, you do not need to wear a surgical mask. However, if you live in a COVID-19 hotspot and leave home for a lawful purpose, you may have to wear a cloth or surgical mask. You may also live in an area where it is recommended you wear a mask in public if you cannot guarantee you can stay 1.5 metres from others.

If you wear a face mask, you should change the mask as soon as it becomes damp or dirty. Do not reuse single-use masks. More information about masks can be found on the Department of Health website.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Symptom Checker to find out if you need to seek medical help.

How do I wear a mask correctly?

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

Avoid touching your face at all times.

Keep a paper bag or zip-lock bag with you to keep fresh face coverings clean if you carry them with you.

Cloth mask

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.

After taking your mask off, store it in a plastic bag until you can wash it.

Surgical mask (single use)

You can only use a surgical mask once. Before putting it 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.

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 your head’s crown.

If your mask has a metallic strip, pinch and press it to mould it to your nose shape. Pull the bottom of the mask over your mouth and chin so it fits securely. Don’t touch your mask or face once you have put it on.

Download this infographic in PDF format to print it

Click to check how to wear a cloth mask safely

Read the embedded text separately

Taking off your mask

You can remove your mask when you are by yourself, in your car or at home.

Wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Do not 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 have to wear a mask and under what conditions.

Not all states necessarily have the same rules, and situations change quickly so follow the news and check your state or territory website for the latest updates.

If you live in metropolitan Melbourne or Mitchell Shire in Victoria, you must wear a mask or other face covering when leaving home unless you have a lawful reason for not wearing one. From Monday 3 August, that restriction applies to the entire state of Victoria.

Reasons include if you have a relevant medical condition, you are doing exercise that leaves you breathless, or if you cannot do your job properly with a face covering on.

The NSW Government recommends people wear a mask if they cannot reliably stay 1.5 metres from others — unless they are under the age of 12. Toddlers under the age of 2 and babies must not wear masks, which are a suffocation and choking risk.

People must isolate at home if they experience symptoms. They should wear a face mask if they're in the same room as others.

NSW health workers must wear a surgical mask if they are within 1.5 metres of patients.

Patients are also required to wear a mask, where possible.

This advice applies to hospital and community health settings.

Local health districts provide further information about wearing masks in hospital and community health settings — such as urging visitors to wear masks, too.

Check your local health district’s website for more information.

Can my employer make me wear a mask?

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

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

You should also closely monitor the information that your state or territory provides and ensure the rules are followed in your workplace.

Where can I get masks?

Your healthcare provider will give you a surgical mask to wear when you enter the hospital emergency department or clinic if they suspect that you have COVID-19 (if you don't already have one). The hospital or clinic will also give you information on surgical masks and you should follow their advice on how to fit and wear one.

If you live in a COVID-19 hotspot and leave home for a lawful purpose, you may have to wear a cloth or surgical mask. If you live elsewhere, it may be recommended that you wear a mask in public if you cannot guarantee you can stay 1.5 metres from others.

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

Should I buy a mask online?

There is a huge number of masks for sale online, but they vary in quality and 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 will not necessarily be able to tell this if you buy one online without the chance to inspect it.

It is much safer to purchase a cloth or surgical mask from shops like chemists and hardware stores. You can also make your own cloth mask. See ‘Where can I get masks?’ on this page.


More frequently asked questions (FAQs) about COVID-19

Click on the links below for more questions and answers about the coronavirus (COVID-19).


Information and alerts

Visit the Department of Health's website for the latest alerts on COVID-19 in Australia, or the World Health Organization's website for global updates.


Resources in other languages

COVID-19 resources in other languages are available from the Department of Health, as well as from the ACT, NSW, Qld, SA, Tas, Vic and WA health departments.

Information is also available in Aboriginal languages (NT).


Information for health professionals

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) provides coronavirus (COVID-19) information for GPs.

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

Last reviewed: July 2020


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