This protocol discusses the use of masks to prevent the transmission of viral infections. Please see chemical weapons protocol for use of masks to protect against chemical weapons such as teargas.
Masks discussed here are useful for preventing virus particles from entering or leaving the mouth or nose. The COVID-19 virus can also enter via exposed eyes or open cuts.
At the time of writing, masks in the UK are in desperately short supply. We have therefore suggested some priorities for the use of the current available stock, and have endorsed the use of cloth in other situations. In contexts where there is no supply shortage, we do not encourage the use of cloth or other DIY masks.
See Principles and assumptions for using masks during the COVID-19 pandemic for more discussion of our sources and reasoning.
When to wear masks or face coverings
When using masks, it is essential to remember the following principles:
- Masks are an addition to other infection control measures (hand hygiene, use of tissues, not touching the face), not a substitute.
- Maintain distancing whenever possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. Use masks for additional protection and in situations where this is impossible, not as an excuse to ignore distancing principles.
Depending on your situation you should choose one of the following protocols:
- mask use to prevent yourself from spreading the COVID-19 virus in public/shared spaces, or when handling items which others will touch. This applies even if you do not have symptoms of the virus.
- mask use to protect yourself from the COVID-19 virus in public/shared spaces.
Also see our No-Sew mask tutorial.
Close contact mask protocol covers
- mask use to prevent yourself from spreading the COVID-19 virus or similar infections when in close contact with a person who is at high risk. This applies even if you do not have symptoms of the virus.
- mask use to protect yourself if you are at high risk and must come into close contact with a person from outside your household,
- mask use to protect yourself when in close contact with someone who has/is suspected to have COVID-19, or another infection that's spread through droplets.
- mask use to prevent yourself from spreading COVID-19 to others in your household/caring for you if you are infected.
High risk mask protocol covers mask use to protect yourself from COVID-19 or similar infections when you will be exposed to high levels of virus, or will be at unusually high risk. This may apply if you are
- a healthcare worker carrying out procedures such as intubation or CPR
- doing close-contact care of an infected person for a prolonged period, or for multiple infected people
- in a confined space (e.g. a car) with an infected person for a long period of time
- at high risk if you were to contract the virus, but cannot avoid being in a confined space with others who may be infected.