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Guidance for wearing face masks in the community to reduce the spread of COVID-19

The decision on the use of non-medical masks and the responsibility for accessing or making masks is for the individual.

There is increasing evidence that people with no symptoms or only very mild symptoms may have COVID-19 and be at risk of spreading it to others.

Wearing a face mask in public may help reduce the spread of infection from people who may be carrying the virus, without knowing it, to others. Wearing a mask has not been shown to protect the wearer from infection.

Simple non-medical masks may be effective at reducing transmission although we do not know by how much. Masks can be made of cloth, textiles or paper and be home-made or commercially manufactured. Instructions for making simple home-made masks out of readily available materials can easily be found on line. The US Centres for Disease Control have instructions for home-made masks 

You may want to consider wearing a face mask when you are in a public place where it may be difficult to follow social distancing. Examples include when visiting busy, enclosed spaces such as supermarkets or grocery stores or when using public transport.

If you decide to wear a mask when you are out, you need to remember that this does not replace the need to keep following the key recommended actions to prevent virus spread. These are cleaning your hands frequently with soap and water or sanitiser, avoid touching your face, coughing into a tissue or your elbow, observing social distancing (2m away from others), working from home if possible and staying at home if you are ill.

It is also important to use the mask appropriately. It should completely cover your face from the bridge of the nose to the chin, and fit snugly against the sides of your face. Clean your hands with soap and water or sanitiser before putting on and taking off the mask. When taking off the mask, remove it from behind to avoid touching the front which may have become contaminated with virus. If the mask is reusable, wash it as soon as possible after each use, using household laundry detergent at 60 C.

Be careful to remove the mask from behind and avoid adjusting the mask while you are wearing it. Incorrect removal and frequent adjustment increase the risk of touching your face and potentially increasing virus transmission.

Do not use a mask on young children under two, anyone who has difficulty breathing or anyone who for any reason is unable to take the mask off themselves.