Face masks: what you need to know

The latest advice on face masks and Covid-19.

Man and woman wearing face masks in crowd of people.

Face masks are back in the spotlight after the Ministry of Health updated its advice and recommended adding masks to your emergency supplies.

It’s recommending non-medical grade face masks – either disposable options or reusable cloth masks – when there’s evidence of community transmission of Covid-19.

What’s changed?

The ministry previously advised masks weren’t necessary, unless you were sick or had a job requiring close contact with people who may have Covid-19.

In its updated advice, the ministry says face masks will be useful if there’s known community transmission of Covid-19 and people are in situations where they’re in close proximity, such as on public transport or in shops.

What’s the state of evidence?

The ministry’s advice follows a recent update from the World Health Organization (WHO).

In its June 2020 guidance, WHO stated there’s not yet high quality or direct scientific evidence supporting the use of masks by healthy people. However, available studies and growing observational evidence from several countries where masks are used have provided a basis for updating its advice.

It’s now recommending governments encourage people to wear a mask if there’s widespread community transmission and physical distancing of at least a metre isn’t possible.

What’s the advice for face masks at alert levels 2 and 3?

At both alert levels 2 and 3, you’re required to wear a mask on buses, trains, ferries and on all flights. This requirement applies from 11.59pm, Sunday, 30 August 2020.

In other situations, you can opt to wear a mask at level 2 when physical distancing isn’t possible. At level 3, it’s highly recommended you wear a mask in closed spaces where physical distancing isn’t possible and contact with other people outside your bubble may occur.

What about level 4?

Not many people will need to wear face masks at level 4 because we’ll be in lockdown and staying home most of the time.

Will a mask stop me getting Covid-19?

A face mask helps stop droplets spreading when someone speaks, coughs or sneezes. But it won’t make you bullet-proof – don’t believe any trader making overblown health claims for its masks.

Health authorities stress that masks are just one way to help stop the spread of Covid-19. Washing your hands is as important as ever. Other public health measures – physical distancing and staying home when you’re sick – are also critical in stopping the spread of the virus in the event of another outbreak.

If I’m buying or making a fabric mask, what should I consider?

A mask with three layers of fabric is considered the best option. Based on available research, WHO’s advice is a mask with:

  • an inner layer of absorbent material, such as cotton

  • a middle layer of non-woven material, such as polypropylene 

  • an outer layer of non-absorbent material, such as polyester or polyester blend.

For advice on making your own mask, Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services has put this guide together, or watch the video below from the World Health Organisation (WHO).


Other info

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Crowd of people walking.

Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Read our latest articles on the Covid-19 pandemic. Got a consumer-related question about coronavirus? Email us at info@consumer.org.nz and we'll do our best to help.

Member comments

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Peace L.
16 Aug 2020
No mask for me

Dont care. I am allowed to have my own opinion about no masks. Im not a dog to be muzzled and definitely not a sheeple. Selfish ... well so be it nothing wrong with that ... if you don't take care of yourself how can you take care of others ... Sweden has nearly reached herd immunity naturally despite initial high death rates in rest homes ... like everyone ... same as NZ. Lets see who's science comes out on top. Hope Consumer does a survey on NZ's real thoughts about this virus and the effects of the lockdown, not what the media are only showing us. Wheres the for and against debates ... we can make our own minds up.

Brian L.
17 Aug 2020
Pandemic

It is simple. The world is in the grip of a pandemic. It is not about you or your beliefs.

Lynn L.
18 Aug 2020
No Mask for Me

Opinions and actions like these are exactly why Melbourne is in the position it is. I can only hope that Darwin's law applies to people who behave like this - the least equipped to survive will give way to those who act intelligently. Survival of the fittest includes those who act with compassion. Not this person.

David K.
25 Aug 2020
Thank You Pearce L

How refreshing to see Pearce question what the mainstream media reports.
Even a quick look into the science of face masks reveals they are ineffective at protecting us from the virus and they are in fact detrimental to our health. Our eyes are not shielded from the virus and the virus can easily pass through even the best face masks on the market! Consider researching what the real on the front-line Doctors are saying about this virus and vaccines. Dr Rashid Buttar is one of many sources of honest and intelligent information.

Johannes B.
30 Aug 2020
Sweden is not a good model

Sweden has an infection rate and a death rate many times that of NZ and they are nowhere near acquiring herd immunity. Herd immunity requires 80% of the population to be immune. Sweden is currently at 6% and Covid might not give you lasting immunity anyway. The only way to beat this disease in NZ is for everyone to play their part.

martyn g.
15 Aug 2020
masks with fitted valves

Masks with valves are said to protect the user but not others. To be socially responsible do not buy N95 masks with fitted exhaust valves, check before you buy. I got caught out!

Dianne H.
15 Aug 2020
Pricing of masks

Can we have some indication of acceptable price. Chemist had box of 50 for approx $104 and $3.99 each. This is very expensive

Maureen V.
15 Aug 2020
How to tell if material is cotton

Snip the end and rip. If it’s cotton it rips. Polyester etc won’t
As for wearing a mask?. Glad the surgeons aren’t so wimpy. They can do an operation for 8 hours wearing one. You can wear one around the supermarket.

Fiona H.
15 Aug 2020
Quality of masks

I have concerns about the quality of some masks available in NZ. I have found a number that have been supported by fake certificates, some that have been tested overseas and failed the appropriate test, and some that are counterfeit. Masks are medical devices which must be registered with Medsafe and this is not happening in all cases. The masks must be labelled according to the Medicines Act 1981 and Medicines Regulations 1984 and many are not. Even pharmacies are guilty of not following the law. Medsafe seems to be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. If a medical device is found to be faulty, then they step in to do the recall. There is no active testing of medical devices in NZ and you cannot search the WAND database to see if the medical device is registered in NZ. We need to be sure that the mask we are buying meets the standard the manufacturer claims it is, and in NZ we do not have this guarantee. This applies to all medical devices.

AG
19 Aug 2020
Yes, more data needed

I bought a pack of Health Warrior 25 disposable masks from PaknSave. The box has the CE and FDA logos on it. The masks are 3-ply (non-woven, filter paper, and non-woven). But no reference to NZ standards and no performance criteria, no instructions for safe use. So I have no idea how good they really are. But presumably better than nothing. It would be good to see a regulated market selling only approved products with clear performance standards.

It would be good if Consumer could do a survey of masks available and tell us where we can buy ones that comply with the law and that work, for a reasonable price.

Peace L.
15 Aug 2020
No mask for me

Not going to do it. I can't breathe with one on. And I dont believe it is worthwhile. I agree with Sweden. Social distancing, small numbers and contact tracing is the way. Masks dont stop the virus at all. Will make moree ppl sick wearing masks all day. And yes I do disagree with WHO.

Robert F.
15 Aug 2020
To Peace L

So you know more than the World Health Organisation. Congratulations.

Mike H.
15 Aug 2020
Re No mask for me

The death rate in Sweden is ~570 / 1M, Nordic neighbors Finland and Norway are 10 time lower, and its more than 100 deaths for every one we have had in New Zealand

John A.
15 Aug 2020
No Peace

So p:ss off to Sweden then, Peace. If you don’t want good advice, don’t subscribe to Consumer, and don’t imagine that the rest of us are interested in your horse-hit opinions - especially since you’re clearly both wrong and self-centred.

Liz D.
15 Aug 2020
Mask wearing protects you

A cough can travel as fast as 50 mph and expel almost 3,000 droplets in just one go. Sneezes can travel up to 100 mph and create upwards of 100,000 droplets. Wearing a mask means that those droplets aren't being breathed in by you in the two seconds they take to surround you while you are shopping at the supermarket.

Cleone
15 Aug 2020
Sweden

Sweden took the approach to COVID-19 of hoping to achieve herd immunity through exposing people to the virus but reducing the rate of exposure through reducing social interactions, but not at lockdown level. Sweden has one of the highest death rates in the world per million people. The Swedish way is not the NZ way and hopefully most Consumer members would agree with me?

Lynn L.
18 Aug 2020
No mask for me

So you agree with Sweden's death rate too?

Daniel M.
15 Aug 2020
An excellent pattern to use

Great advice on the three layers and types of fabrics to use, I haven’t been happy when officials have effectively said anything will do. I’ve also found this pattern excellent for fitting masks to the different members of my family (you measure face features then choose the appropriate template) https://media.rainpos.com/220/jessemask.pdf

Denise I.
15 Aug 2020
Daniel thank you for this link

Thank you for sharing this link. Very easy pattern to follow.

Bob G.
15 Aug 2020
Thanks

Thanks for the link Daniel

Fiona H.
15 Aug 2020
Great link

Thanks, Daniel, that is extremely useful information.