Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings and masks

Published: 30 Oct 2020
Last updated: 18 Oct 2021 - see all updates

Rules and guidance on wearing face coverings and masks, including exemptions.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings and masks
Wearing a face covering - more information

Wearing a face covering - more information

Scientific evidence

There is scientific evidence that face coverings are effective in reducing the transmission of coronavirus and the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends their use in places in the community where the risk of transmission is high.

These high-risk settings tend to have these following characteristics:

  • close proximity with people from other households
  • settings where individuals stay for prolonged periods of time
  • high frequency of contacts
  • confined shared environments
  • poor ventilation

COVID-19 spreads through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, sings or even breathes, and droplets and aerosols from their mouth or nose are released into the air. The evidence to date continues to point towards transmission occurring mainly via close contact with an infected person through aerosol transmission. A large proportion of cases are asymptomatic, which means they are unaware that they have been infected but can still transmit the virus.

Face coverings, therefore, remain an important part of stopping the spread of COVID-19. When worn correctly, face coverings can provide protection to the person who is wearing one and to those around them from droplet and aerosol transmission. They can also be effective at reducing contamination to the environment around the wearer (e.g. surfaces).

Face coverings are not the same as face masks or personal protective equipment (PPE).

What a face covering  is

A face covering can be a covering of any type, except a face shield, that covers the mouth and nose. This includes transparent face coverings which assist communication for those who rely on lip-reading and facial expressions.

It is recommended that face coverings are made of cloth or other textiles and should be two, and preferably three, layers thick in line with WHO recommendations and fit snugly around the mouth, nose and chin while allowing you to breathe easily.

Religious face coverings that cover the mouth and the nose count as face coverings for these purposes.

The WHO does not advise using face coverings with exhalation valves. These face coverings are intended for industrial workers to prevent dust and particles from being breathed in. The valve allows any virus to escape. This makes the face covering ineffective at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

See a video on how to make your own face covering at home.

Face shields may be used, but only if they are worn in addition to a face covering underneath, as the evidence shows that they do not provide adequate protection on their own against aerosol transmission as small droplets can escape from the bottom of a face shield and land on surfaces or stay in the air for periods of time.

A face mask is not the same as a face covering

A face mask is a surgical or medical grade mask, often worn with other personal protective equipment (PPE). For more information on face masks see the Public Health Scotland (PHS) Infection prevention and control (IPC) guidance and resources.

How to wear your face covering

When worn correctly, face coverings can provide protection to those around the wearer. The appropriate use, storage and cleaning, or disposal of face coverings are essential to make them as effective as possible.

Face coverings should:

  • securely cover your mouth, nose and chin
  • fit snugly so that there are no gaps for air to escape out of the sides or bottom

Face coverings should not:

  • be worn below the nose
  • be worn below the mouth and nose

Straps should not be crossed to provide a snugger fit as this provides a gap at the side for air to escape or enter. Instead tie a knot in the strings to make them shorter.

Always wash or sanitise your hands before putting on or taking off your face covering and avoid touching your face when wearing one. If you do touch your face covering, wash or sanitise your hands immediately afterwards.

How to care for and dispose of your face covering

For your face covering to be as effective as possible, you should:

  • always wash or sanitise your hands before putting on or taking off a face covering and avoid touching your face when wearing one. If you do touch your face covering, wash or sanitise your hands immediately afterwards
  • replace your face covering immediately with a clean one if it becomes wet or dirty
  • if you need to store your face covering, for example, in your pocket, try to use a washable bag or container so that you keep it as clean as possible
  • not put your face covering down on surfaces because invisible germs could contaminate it
  • wash and reuse your own face coverings rather than using single use face coverings
  • wash face coverings after every use, for example after a school day, or a trip to the supermarket. Although a face covering might not look dirty, it could have invisible germs on it
  • wash face coverings on the highest setting suitable for the fabric, preferably 60°C if using a washing machine
  • if you do not have a washing machine, hand wash your face covering using detergent and warm to hot water and then iron it once dry to make sure all the germs are killed
  • transparent face coverings are also available and they should be cleaned after every use. Follow the washing instructions provided with the product

How to dispose of your face covering

If your face covering is not reusable, you should dispose of it safely in the general waste bin. Disposable face coverings cannot be recycled. More information on correct disposal of face coverings is available on the Zero Waste Scotland website as part of the wider Managing our Waste campaign. Cut the straps of face coverings before disposing of them to avoid the possibility of wildlife becoming trapped and distressed.

If you have coronavirus or live with someone who does, you need to take extra precautions before throwing away disposable face coverings. Double bag personal waste items that have been in contact with the person (including gloves), store the waste safely for 72 hours, then throw it in the outside bin.

Helping others

Some people will struggle to hear or understand people wearing a face covering because they can’t see their mouth or facial expression.

You can help by:

  • trying to reduce any background noise (where possible)
  • if you are communicating with someone who needs to see your face or has difficulty understanding you can take off your own face covering where necessary. You may want to be at least 1 metre apart when removing your face covering and you should replace it immediately (or put it back on if reusable) after you have finished communicating
  • speak slowly, asking if the person can hear you, and using signs and body language to emphasise what you are saying
  • being aware that some people may need more time at the counter, as they may need to write down their enquiries or use other communication aids

If you are aware that a person is deaf, you can help by:

  • being patient and being aware that they cannot hear you and may not know you are talking to them or what you are saying
  • making sure you have their attention by waving and using gestures and pointing
  • using signs and body language to emphasise what you are saying
  • taking off your mask as recommended above
  • writing information down

First published: 30 Oct 2020 Last updated: 18 Oct 2021 -