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A face covering is a material you wear that covers your nose and mouth. Wearing one helps stop the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus), especially from people who don't know they have the virus.

Cloth face coverings

Cloth face coverings are the type of face coverings most people should wear in public settings.

They are made from cloth materials such as cotton or silk. Cloth face coverings should have at least 2 layers of fabric.

You can buy them or make them at home using items such as scarves, t-shirts, sweatshirts, or towels.

Medical face masks

Medical face masks are also known as surgical masks. They are the common disposable masks that are widely available. They are usually green or blue in colour.

Wear a medical face mask if you are in one of the groups of people at higher risk of getting seriously ill if you get COVID-19.

You should also wear a medical face mask at home if you:

  • are in self-isolation
  • have tested positive for COVID-19 - you still need to stay in your room
  • are living with someone who has COVID-19

A medical face mask will give you better protection than a cloth face covering if you are in one of these groups. But they are not meant to be reused. You will need a good supply of them.

Like cloth face coverings, a medical face mask should cover your nose and mouth. They should be thrown away after you wear them once and you should not wash or reuse them.

Follow the advice on how to safely throw away a single-use mask

All other members of the public should wear a cloth face covering. This will help to make sure that medical face masks are kept for those who really need them.

Read more about what to do if you live with other people and you are self-isolating

Visors and face shields

Visors are not the best option for protecting yourself and others from COVID-19.

Visors may stop some spread of droplets from your nose or mouth. This is better than not wearing any face covering. But visors should only be worn if you have an illness or impairment that makes wearing a face covering difficult.

Read more about who may be advised to wear a visor

How to wear a visor

The visor should wrap around the sides of your face (ear to ear) and extend to below the chin. Reusable visors should be cleaned after each use and then stored in a clean place until needed.

You should still wear a mask if you:

  • have COVID-19, think you have COVID-19 or are waiting on a test result
  • are caring for someone with COVID-19 or who has symptoms of COVID-19
  • are self-isolating and you cannot keep 2 metres between you and other people in your household

Read more about how COVID-19 is spread

Face coverings with valves or vents

Do not wear a face covering if it has a valve or vent.

These types of face coverings are not good for reducing the spread of the virus. This is because you could breathe in or breathe out the virus through the valve or vent.

Construction workers and tradesmen normally use them to protect against dust. They are not designed to stop the spread of a virus.

Do not wear face coverings with a valve or vent as they are not effective against COVID-19
Face coverings with valves or vents do not protect you from COVID-19

Related topics

Protect yourself and others from COVID-19

Shopping safely during the COVID-19 pandemic

Disposable gloves and COVID-19

Last updated: 12 March 2021 at 5.40pm

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