Where there is low community transmission of COVID-19, wearing a mask in the community when you are well is not generally recommended.

However, where there is significant community transmission (as determined by jurisdictional public health authorities), you may choose, or be required to, wear a mask. If physical distancing is difficult to maintain, for example on public transport, covering your face with a mask can provide some extra protection.

While a mask can be used as an extra precaution, you must continue to:

  • stay at home if unwell
  • maintain physical distance (more than 1.5 metres) from other people, when out
  • avoid large gatherings and crowded indoor spaces
  • practise hand and respiratory hygiene.

The main value of wearing a mask is to protect other people. If the person wearing the mask is unknowingly infected, wearing a mask will reduce the chance of them passing the virus on to others.

For people at increased risk of severe COVID-19 themselves ­because of older age or chronic illness, physical distancing is most important. If you cannot maintain physical distance, wearing a mask is an important protective measure.

Latest health advice on masks

If there is a rise in community transmission in your state or territory then the advice on masks may change. It’s important to stay up to date with the advice in your local area. Your state or territory government will provide this.

To stay up to date on the latest mask advice, follow your local government’s updates:

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.

Mask resources

How to wear a mask, with Chief Nurse and Midwifery Officer Alison McMillan

Video still of Alison McMillan
Read transcript

Hi, I'm Alison McMillan, Commonwealth Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer. 

If you do decide to wear a mask you need to know how to wear it properly, to make sure it is effective.

It needs to protect you, and the people near you, from airborne droplets that could spread the virus.

Before putting on the mask, wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitiser.

Secure the mask ties in the middle of the back of your head and neck, or slip the elastics over your ears.  

Make sure it covers your nose and mouth.

Fix the flexible band to the bridge of your nose with the mask sitting snugly to your face and below your chin. 

While you’re wearing a mask, do not touch the front or allow it to hang around your neck. This includes when eating or drinking.

If you do touch the mask, wash your hands immediately.

If your mask gets wet or is damaged, it can no longer do its job, so replace it.

When it’s time to remove the mask, use the ties or elastics and be careful not to touch the front of the mask.

Single-use masks should not be reused, but discarded immediately after use.

And then of course please hygiene your hands again.

A face mask is not a substitute for the precautions we know prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • staying at home if you’re unwell
  • that physical distancing  – staying 1.5 metres away from others
  • frequently hygiening your hands, and
  • cough and respiratory etiquette.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Nick Coatsworth's message about masks

Read transcript

The recent rise in community transmission of COVID-19 in some parts of Australia means the time has come for us to get used to masks – either actually wearing them now or the idea that at some point we might be asked to do so.

As doctors, we had to start using masks during our training.

I can tell you it's something that you do get used to quickly. It just becomes a natural part of what you’re doing.

We had to get used to wearing them. And we had to learn how to use them properly.

It’s important to make sure you use a mask the right way. You need to take care in putting on and removing your mask to minimise your risk of any exposure to COVID-19.

That means washing your hands before putting a mask on and straight after taking it off. It means making sure it covers your mouth and your nose – don’t let it hang around your neck.

If your mask is wet it won’t be effective so you need to change it if it’s a disposable mask, or wash it if it is a cloth reusable mask.

And please make sure you don’t touch the front of your mask either whilst wearing it, or taking it on or off.

Wearing a mask can help stop someone who has COVID-19 – and doesn’t know it – from passing it on.  It can also help prevent you getting COVID-19.

A mask is adds to the things we have already been doing for months now. We all still need to maintain physical distancing, practise good hygiene, and stay at home if you are unwell and get tested.

And, if health circumstances change, if community transmission gets more widespread, the medical advice will be updated.  So it’s important that you stay up to date with the advice in your local area. Your state or territory government will provide this.

Wearing a mask, is another way you can play your part in stopping the spread of the virus and saving lives.

Last updated: 
18 March 2021

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