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HealthInfo Canterbury

Face masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19

Kia mau te maru hā

Wearing a face mask can reduce the risk of infected people spreading COVID-19. Make sure you have non-medical grade masks ready for each person in your household.

This page on the COVID-19 government website gives information about when you should wear a face mask at different alert levels and in different regions of New Zealand.

If you're unwell with COVID-19 symptoms, you should stay at home at all alert levels and seek medical advice. If you need to travel to see a health professional, you should wear a face mask.

In certain situations, you can be exempt from wearing a face mask. This page gives information about the exemptions at different alert levels.

Exemption card for face coverings

Some people who have a disability or health condition may not be able to wear a face covering safely or comfortably. To help with this, you can get an exemption card. You can show your exemption card when needed. For example, to a bus driver.

You don't need to have an exemption card, but you may feel more comfortable showing something official to confirm you can't wear a face covering.

If you think you need an exemption card, contact the Disabled Persons Assembly NZ. You can get a printable version or a card that you can show on your phone. You can contact the Disabled Persons Assembly NZ on (04) 801-9100 or at

Preventing the spread of COVID-19 with face masks

A face mask helps stop droplets spreading when someone speaks, laughs, coughs or sneezes. This includes someone who has COVID-19 but feels well or has no obvious symptoms.

You should use a mask along with other measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. These include hand washing, cough and sneeze etiquette, not touching your face and physical distancing.

Types of mask

You don’t need a medical-grade face mask to prevent community transmission. You just need a mask that will create a barrier between your mouth and nose and other people. Your mask can either be a reusable and washable fabric mask or a single-use, disposable mask.

If you choose reusable fabric masks, you'll still need to buy a few for each member of your whānau/family.

Store unused disposable masks and new or washed reusable masks in a clean resealable plastic bag until you need to use them.

Reusable fabric masks

Fabric masks need to be made of a weave that's tight enough to contain droplets, while still allowing you to breathe easily. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests they should ideally have 3 layers.

Learn more about fabric masks in the video from the World Health Organisation at the top of this page.

Using a face mask safely

The following information on how to use a mask safely is from the Ministry of Health. Also see this World Health Organisation graphic about how to wear a non-medical fabric mask safely. Click the image to see a larger version.

Safely putting on a face mask

  1. Check that your face mask is clean, dry and not damaged.
  2. Clean your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser before putting on your mask. Make sure your hands are dry.
  3. Place the face mask over your nose and mouth and secure it with ties or loops. Make sure the mask fits snugly and is moulded to your face and around your nose. Make sure the mask fully covers your nose, mouth and chin. Your mask should be comfortable with no gaps around the mask and your face and allow you to breathe easily.
  4. Clean your hands again.

Safely wearing a face mask

Safely removing a face mask

  1. Clean your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser. Make sure your hands are dry.
  2. Remove the face mask from behind by untying the ties or removing the loops and pulling it away from your face. Don't touch the front of the mask. Be careful not to touch your eyes, nose and mouth when removing your mask.
  3. Clean or dispose of it appropriately.
  4. Clean your hands again.

Safely disposing of single-use face masks

  1. Put it in a bin with a lid or place it in a bag and seal the bag before putting it in a rubbish bin or taking it home.
  2. Clean your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser. Make sure your hands are dry.
  3. Don't reuse or try to disinfect single-use disposable face masks.

Cleaning fabric masks

  1. After each use, wash the mask in a washing machine with detergent at 60 degrees Celsius.
  2. After putting the mask in the washing machine, clean your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser. Make sure your hands are dry.
  3. Dry the mask completely before you use it again. Don't use a damp mask.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Adapted from Health Navigator by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created February 2021. Last updated August 2021.

How to wear a non-medical fabric mask safely graphic courtesy of the World Health Organisation.

Page reference: 784607

Review key: HICOV-710714