Using face masks in our community and recommendations for those with a respiratory condition

The Ministry of Health is strongly encouraging New Zealanders to wear a mask or face covering in COVID-19 Alert Levels 2 and above with the following recommendations:

When should I wear a mask or face covering?

Masks or face coverings should be worn in COVID-19 Alert Levels 2 and above in any situation where it is not possible to practice physical distancing (for example, in shops, or in any crowded environment). 

As of Monday 31 August 2020, face masks or face coverings are now mandatory on all public transport in New Zealand in Alert Levels 2 and above. Read more here

COVID-19 Alert Level 1 - You will not need to wear a mask because there is no evidence of community transmission.

COVID-19 Alert Level 2 - You should wear a mask in situations where physical distancing is not possible. Face masks are mandatory on all public transport.

COVID-19 Alert Level 3 - It is highly recommended that you wear a mask when you are out in public. This is because the risk of COVID-19 being present in the community is higher, and there is a risk that it is not contained.

COVID-19 Alert Level 4 - It is highly recommended that you wear a mask when you are out in public – however unless you are delivering or accessing essential services, there will be very limited freedom of movement in public places. You should stay at home as much as possible.

Types of masks and face coverings

There are different face masks and coverings available:

  • Medical (NIOSH approved N95 grade or surgical masks).
  • Non-medical-grade face masks.
  • Other face coverings such as a bandana or a scarf can also be used if you do not have a mask.

Face masks for the general public don’t need to be medical grade. Homemade, fabric, reusable and disposable masks) are all suitable. 

However, for those people most at risk of severe health impacts from COVID-19, higher quality masks are recommended if leaving your home. For people who are high risk, staying at home is still the best way to protect yourself.

What types of masks or face coverings should people with respiratory conditions wear?

Respiratory patients most at risk from severe health impacts from COVID-19 are those with uncontrolled or pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as chronic lung disease, cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema, and people who have severe asthma which needs multiple medications and medical care. 

  • For people with very mild or well-controlled asthma, wearing a face mask should not be an issue.
  • For those who have trouble breathing, severe or poorly controlled asthma with frequent flare-ups, or for those with COPD who are coughing and experiencing significant breathlessness, then it is possible that wearing a face mask could cause discomfort or make it harder to breathe.

People with respiratory conditions can consider:

  • Only wearing a mask for short periods of time, for example if you have to travel to see a health professional or access an essential service.
  • Avoiding travel on public transport, or any situation where you cannot maintain physical distancing and you need to wear a mask or face covering.
  • Using a face mask or face covering that is made of moisture-wicking and breathable fabric (eg. 100% cotton) may make the mask more comfortable to wear.

For more information on the use of face masks or face coverings, visit the New Zealand COVID-19 website here