Face coverings – when and where to wear them

Here we take a look at why you should were a face covering, when to wear one and how to use one to best effect.

Many countries are recommending or have enforced the wearing of some type of face covering to provide partial protection against the coronavirus in public places.  

The Government, on the advice of SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) has now recommended members of the public should consider wearing face coverings over their mouth and nose in enclosed or confined public spaces such as shops, trains and buses to help reduce the spread of coronavirus.

It is believed that wearing face masks in public places will help slow infection rates from asymptomatic people (those who show no symptoms) and so do not know that they have contracted the virus.

The Chief Medical Officer has said that face coverings are not a replacement for social distancing and regular hand washing which remain the most important actions. When wearing a face covering, it is essential to continue with other precautions, such as not touching the face and practising physical distancing.

The public have been urged not to buy medical grade masks so they can be saved for frontline health and care workers, and instead buy a simple cloth face covering or make their own at home.

Some leading scientists in the UK have now said that face coverings should be made compulsory in public places and while not providing a perfect solution, could help to reduce transmission by protecting each other from the particles produced from coughs and sneezes and the breath in close proximity to another person.

Read the Government advice on face coverings here.

So what type of face covering is suitable to wear

Due to shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), only key workers should be wearing a protective face mask.  These are known as N95 or surgical masks.

Face coverings made from tightly woven fabric such as denim or cotton are recommended in many countries.  There are plenty of types available to buy online and a simple face covering can be made quite easily at home from cotton or denim fabric and elastic.

Disposable and cloth coverings can protect against droplets from coughing and sneezing, but neither can provide complete protection against the very small exhaled particles emitted in our breath.   However as with using a tissue when we sneeze, they do offer a level of protection.

More elaborate face coverings can also be bought or made which include a shaped piece around the nose and/or a pocket for a home-made filter.  Examples could include coffee filter papers, tissues or sanitary towels.

Alternatively you can use a T shirt, sock or scarf to fashion a very simple face covering – these offer less protection than a cotton face covering as they are not so tightly woven, but could be used if necessary.

See the official advice on how to make a simple face covering at home.

Tips for wearing a home-made face covering

  • A cloth face covering should cover your mouth and nose while allowing you to breathe comfortably. It can be as simple as a scarf or bandana that ties behind the head.
  • Ensure it fits completely over the nose and mouth and the fit is reasonably snug before you leave home – neither too tight or too loose.
  • Ensure the fastenings around the ears or head are comfortable if wearing for a prolonged period of time
  • When wearing a face covering, take care to tuck away any loose ends.
  • Before wearing, wash your hands and again after taking it off and after use.
  • Avoid touching the front of the face covering, or the part of the face covering that has been in contact with your mouth and nose. Once removed, make sure you clean any surfaces the face covering has touched.
  • Store used face coverings in a plastic bag until you have an opportunity to wash them.
  • Wash your face covering regularly. It can go in with other laundry, using your normal detergent.
  • Children under the age of two do not need to and should not wear a mask.

Read the latest NHS information and advice about the coronavirus.

If you suspect you have contracted COVID-19 (coronvirus), you can now obtain a test.