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How and when you could wear a face covering to protect those around you, if you choose to wear one.

First published:
9 June 2020
Last updated:

What is a face covering?

A face covering principally acts to protect others by reducing airborne transmission of COVID-19. It does not protect the wearer from infection from others.

What is a face mask?

Well-fitted medical masks are designed to protect the wearer from infection, and are vital for frontline staff who are at risk from close contact with patients who are, or may be, infected with COVID-19.

What is your policy on face masks and face coverings for the general public?

The evidence remains clear that the most effective way to protect yourself and others from infection is to follow social distancing rules, avoid touching surfaces and your face, and wash your hands regularly.

Face coverings are not a substitute for these measures, but in some circumstances where it might be difficult to stay 2 metre away from others, we are advising the use of three-layer, non-medical face coverings.

This is in line with the World Health Organisation’s latest technical advice.

Face coverings should be made up of three layers as set out by the World Health Organisation but do not need to be medical-grade face masks.

This advice applies only to people who are not symptomatic. If you experience any of the symptoms of COVID-19, you must self-isolate and get a test, as set out in existing guidance. Unless your test shows a negative result, you must not go out during this time, even with a face covering.

Read about the requirement to wear a face covering on public transport in Wales.

What is the science behind this advice?

At the present time, the widespread use of masks by healthy people in the community is not supported by high quality scientific evidence. Social distancing and hygiene measures remain the most effective measures for reducing transmission of COVID-19.

The WHO is recommending, though, that as part of the wider range of measures to prevent transmission, three-layer face coverings should be encouraged in situations where social distancing and hygiene measures are difficult to maintain. 

There is evidence to suggest that the wearing of face coverings gives people a false sense of security which makes them less careful about social distancing and handwashing. We know that these measures are the most effective way to reduce transmission of the virus, and don’t want to do anything that might lead to a reduction of those measures being observed.

Read the advice provided to Welsh Government Ministers.

What kind of face covering should people wear?

To provide any protection to others, face coverings need to be made, worn, handled and disposed of in a certain way.

Unfortunately, many of the home made masks being worn offer little protection to the wearer or those around them.

The WHO recommends a minimum of three layers in a face covering.

Face coverings and single use plastic

I want or need to use a face covering, but do not want to use a single use one containing plastic. How can I do this?

Disposable single-use face coverings contain plastic. If you are concerned about the environmental impact of using one of these, you can buy or make a washable face covering or mask. The World Health Organisation recommends it should have three layers of close woven material such as cotton.

How to make a 3 layer face covering

I only have a single-use face covering. How can dispose of it responsibly?

Remove the face covering carefully – do not touch the front of the face covering or the part of which has been in contact with your mouth and nose.

If you aren’t at home, place your face covering in a litter bin or take it home in a plastic bag and put it in your bin. Do not litter as it can damage the environment.

If you are at home, put it in your household waste bin.

Do not put single use face coverings in the recycling bin as they can’t be recycled.

You do not need to put them in an extra bag or store them for a time before throwing them away.

Please remember to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser immediately after removing your face covering and throwing it away.

What type of single-use face covering should I use?

Please avoid medical grade masks. These should be reserved for health and care workers.

You may wish to consider buying or making a washable face covering which can be reused many times and will be cheaper and be better for the environment.

How to make a 3 layer face covering

How should I care for my reusable face covering?

If you are using a reusable face covering, store it in a plastic bag until you can wash it.

Wash it in line with manufacturer’s instructions at the highest temperature appropriate for the fabric. You can use your normal detergent and you can wash and dry it with other laundry.

Do not give it to someone else to use.

You must throw away your face covering if it is damaged.

Make sure you clean any surfaces the face covering has touched using normal household cleaning products.

I own a business, how can I help reduce waste from single use face coverings?

You can:

  • Provide extra bins for your staff and customers to throw away single use face coverings, any other PPE and any other additional waste, such as takeaway packaging and disposable tableware;
  • Make sure staff and customers do not put single use face coverings and PPE into the recycling bin as they cannot be recycled in conventional recycling facilities;
  • Make sure bins are emptied often so they do not overflow and create litter;
  • Make your staff aware of this advice in case they have questions about PPE.

You do not need to arrange collection of PPE separately but, if you do, you must describe and code your waste correctly.

Ask your waste contractor if there is anything else you need to do.

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