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[Information] All you need to know about face masks

Wearing a mask can help protect you and those around you if you are in an area with community transmission, and physical distancing is not possible.

Latest health advice on masks

The recent rise in community transmission of COVID-19 in Australia means some states and territories now recommend or require the use of masks. Currently this includes Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

How to wear and use a mask properly

For people who choose to wear a mask it is important to wear it properly:

  • wash or sanitise your hands before putting it on or taking it off

  • make sure the mask covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose and against the sides of your face

  • do not touch the front of your mask while wearing or removing it

  • do not allow the mask to hang around your neck or under your nose

  • do not reuse single use masks; wash and dry reusable masks after use and store in a clean dry place.

Generally there are three types of masks currently in use:

1) Surgical masks

Surgical masks are loose-fitting, generally disposable masks that form a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and the immediate environment. Surgical masks do not achieve a close seal to the wearer's face, however are useful in limiting the spread of large particles/droplets from an infected person (such as cough or sneeze spray). 

Single use surgical masks are designed for medical settings and are appropriate for most health care scenarios. Further information for health care workers about the use of face masks is available on the Department of Health website

2) Cloth masks

A cloth mask is a nose and mouth covering made from a washable fabric such as cotton or denim. Cloth masks may be recommended for wearing by the general public where there is community transmission and where it is difficult to maintain physical distancing. It is recommended that cloth masks be properly constructed to ensure they provide adequate protection and are handled and washed appropriately. 

The Australian Government Department of Health and the Victorian Government have issued guidance on cloth masks.

3) High particular respirator (P2 or N95)

P2 and N95 masks are designed to help reduce respiratory exposure to airborne contaminants. They are used when there is a high probability of transmission from particles or droplets in the air. P2 and N95 masks must have a good facial fit to be effective.

Workers must be trained in how to fit, use and dispose of P2 and N95 masks. 

In Australia, most disposable respirators and filters that give protection against dusts and other particles are classified and marked as P1, P2 or P3, in accordance with the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1716:2012.

There are also international standards for the classification of these respirators, with the United States 'N95', European 'FFP2' and Chinese 'KN95' considered equivalent to the Australian P2 and acceptable in Australian workplaces.

For COVID-19, P2/N95 masks should only be used in health care settings in certain circumstances. Further information for health care workers about the use of face masks is available on the Department of Health website.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for P2 masks. This extra demand is leading to fake respiratory protective equipment entering the Australian market. 

Read SafeWork NSW’s safety alert on key things to check to ensure that masks meet the required standards and what to do if you come across a mask that is not fit for purpose.

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