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COVID-19: Do I need to wear a face mask or covering?

19 Aug
Do I need to wear a face coveirng

From the 10th of August, it has been made mandatory to wear a face mask or covering when inside some public places, like shops or shopping centres. It is also mandatory to wear a face covering on public transport.

But what does this mean for you if you have a chest, heart or stroke condition, or care for someone who does? Here is some more information about the rules and exemptions in place in Northern Ireland.

  • Here is a full list of reasons why you would not need to wear a face mask:

    • If you have a physical or mental illness or a disability that makes it difficult for you to put on, wear or remove a face covering
    • If putting on, wearing or removing a face covering would cause you severe distress
    • If you are providing care or assistance to someone else, like a family member who you care for, or in an emergency
    • if you are travelling with or assisting someone who uses lip reading to communicate
    • if you need to eat, drink, or take medication (you can take off face covering while you do this and put it back on when you are finished)
    • if you need to remove it to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury to yourself or others
    • if you are using public transport to avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and you do not have a face covering with you
    • if a face covering would negatively affect your ability to exercise (such as in a gym)
    • if you are under the age of 13
    • if you are a member of staff or employee of the shop or shopping centre
    • temporarily, if a member of staff or employee or a police officer asks you to remove it to check your identity

    If you do find it difficult or distressing to wear, put on or take off a face covering, you would be exempt due to physical illness / severe distress as outlined above.

  • We know that every person is different, and every person’s experience of a chest, heart or stroke condition is different.

    Some people might find that wearing a face covering doesn’t bother them, or that they can get used to it after a while. Others might find wearing one makes it very hard to breath, or may find it difficult to put on or take off. Some of us may also feel overwhelmed or anxious while wearing a face covering.

    If you do find it distressing or difficult to wear, put on or take off a face covering due to your condition, you do not have to, and you will be exempt due to physical illness / severe distress. The exemptions are there for a reason, and help protect and support everyone to adjust to the ‘new normal’.

    If you’re not sure about wearing a face covering, it might be helpful to try out different kinds of face coverings at home before going out to see how it feels, and decide if they are for you or not.

  • No. You do not need to get a doctor’s letter or any sort of letter or proof from any authority to show that you do not need to wear a face covering.

    You only need to say, if asked, that you cannot wear a face covering because you are exempt.

    If you want to have something you can show, the UK government has created cards that you can print or display on your smartphone.

    We understand that it can be daunting going out without a face mask, and that you may be worried about other’s reactions, or that other’s will question why you are not using a mask.

    It is important that we all respect one another and remember that the reasons for not wearing a face covering may not always be visible.

    If you do not wear a face covering and you are not under 13 or have a reasonable excuse for not wearing one, you are committing an offence and could be fined.

  • Coronavirus (COVID-19) can spread through droplets that leave our mouths when we cough, sneeze and speak. These droplets can also be left on surfaces, and spread by touching surfaces and then your face without washing your hands.

    This is why social distancing, regular hand hygiene, and covering coughs and sneezes is so important to stop Coronavirus from spreading.

    We are still learning about the virus and how best to fight it, and at the moment the best scientific evidence shows that when used correctly, if most people where face coverings, it may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets, helping to prevent the spread and protect everyone.

    Wearing a face covering mainly protects others from the wearer’s droplets, rather than protecting the wearer. As a result, it’s still really important to practice social distancing by keeping 2 metres apart where possible, and keep washing our hands well and often. It is also still vitally important to self isolate if you have symptoms of Coronvirus.

    Find out more about Government guidelines on staying safe outside your home.

  • The guidance recommends that you use a washable, cloth face covering if possible as these can be reused again and again, so help protect the environment.

    Some evidence suggests that masks made of thicker fabrics or with multiple layers may work better to stop the spread of Coronavirus, but the mask should still be breathable.

    Your face covering should:

    • cover your nose and mouth while letting you breathe comfortably
    • fit comfortably but snuggly against the side of your face
    • be attached to your head or face with either ties or ear loops
    • be made of a material that you find to be comfortable and easy to breathe in, such as cotton
    • ideally have at least two layers of fabric (the World Health Organisation recommends three depending on the fabric used)
    • unless it is disposable, it should be able to be washed and dried without damaging the mask

    Using a mask with a vent is not recommended, as they allow droplets breathed out to pass into the air outside, no longer protecting those around you.

  • You might find wearing a clear plastic visor easier and more comfortable instead of a cloth face mask.

    In Northern Ireland, you are allowed to wear a face covering of any kind so long as it covers your mouth and nose.

    Generally, cloth face coverings are recommended by the Government guidelines.

    There is less information on how well face shields can protect both you and the others around you. They may protect the wearer from droplets spread by other people speaking, sneezing or coughing. However there isn’t much evidence about whether they will protect other’s around you if you have caught coronavirus.

  • If you are a dab hand at sewing or would like to try your hand at a DIY dressmaking project, you could try making your own face coverings at home.

    Some of our supporters have had a go at making and selling their own face masks, and donated the money made to our work, which we appreciate so much.

    There is lots of advice about how to make your own face covering available on the UK Government website (external link opens in a new window / tab) .

  • It is mandatory to wear a face covering in most indoor, public places, for example:

    • Shops
    • Shopping centres
    • Food Takeaways
    • Drycleaners
    • Bookmakers

    These are only examples, and not a full list. If you are not sure about whether you need to wear a face covering, it is probably best to wear one.

    It is also mandatory to wear a face covering on public transport, including:

    • On buses, coaches, and trains
    • In bus or train stations
    • in indoor areas of a ferry and outdoor areas where you can’t keep two metres social distance

    It is not mandatory to wear a face covering within tour coaches, taxis or private hire vehicles but some businesses may have their own rules you should follow.

    Where do I not need to wear a face covering?

    It is not mandatory to wear a face covering:

    • In a bank
    • While eating or drinking in a restaurant, pub or café.
    • In a Gym, or where you are attending a place to exercise

    If you remove your face covering to eat, drink or exercise, you should replace it as soon as you can.

    It is not mandatory to wear a face covering in some places where customers have tickets or appointments to make sure social distancing can happen, for example:

    • a cinema
    • a hairdresser
    • a solicitors office
    • a car dealership

    Again, some businesses may have their own rules that you should follow.

  • While wearing your face covering, you should still socially distance by staying 2 metres apart from other people when you can, and keep washing your hands well with soap and water for 20 seconds, or using hand sanitiser, often and always before touching your face or your mask.

    How to put on and wear your face covering

    1. Wash your hands well with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on
    2. Make sure the face covering covers your mouth, nose and chin without any gaps at the side
    3. Avoid wearing the face covering on your neck or forehead
    4. Don’t touch the part of the face covering touching your mouth and nose, as if you had the virus and didn’t know it, this would leave droplets on your hands which you could then spread to other surfaces,
    5. Change the face covering if it becomes damp or if you’ve touched it
    6. Avoid taking it off and putting it back very often (for example, when leaving and entering shops on a high street)

    While wearing your face covering

    Droplets can be spread from the mask to other surfaces, or from other surfaces to your mask, so handling your mask carefully is important.

    1. Once you have removed your reusable mask, put it in a plastic bag until you are able to wash it.
    2. Try not to touch the outside or inside of the mask – touch the straps or ties instead. Wash your hands well with soap or use hand sanitiser after touching the mask.
    3. Avoid placing the mask down. If eating in a restaurant, for example, it is important that you do not place the face covering on the table.
    4. Make sure you clean any surfaces the face covering has touched.
    5. Wash your face covering regularly and follow the washing instructions for the fabric.
    6. Throw away your face covering if it is damaged.
    7. Do not share face coverings with other people.

    How to remove your face covering

    1. Wash your hands well with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before removing your face covering
    2. Take it off by the straps, ties or clips
    3. Do not give it to someone else to use
    4. If it is a single-use mask, dispose of it carefully in a general waste bin. Do not recycle.
    5. If it is reusable, wash it in line with manufacturer’s instructions at the highest temperature appropriate for the fabric after every use
    6. Wash your hands well with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser after you’ve removed it.

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For the latest information and guidance around face masks, visit the NI Direct Website.

NI Direct Website


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