Should I wear a face covering?
On this page, we explain the guidance on wearing face coverings across the UK, what the exemptions mean and the type of face covering you should wear.
Wearing a face covering may reduce the risk of spreading infection by protecting people you come into contact with. Face coverings do not replace social distancing or handwashing, but combining all these measures gives us the best chance of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
On this page:
- When do I have to wear a face covering?
- Do I have to wear a face covering if I have a lung condition?
- What face covering should I wear?
- Will I be fined for not wearing a face covering?
If you can, you’re encouraged to wear a face covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible or when you come into contact with people you do not normally meet.
Wearing a face covering is mandatory in some situations. Read the full guidance on face coverings if you live in:
Face coverings in schools
As schools reopen, it is now recommended that pupils and staff in secondary schools should wear face coverings in classrooms, corridors and communal areas, and during activities where social distancing cannot be maintained. Rules on exemptions still apply. Read more about face covering guidance in schools in:
- most people with a lung condition will be fine wearing a face covering
- some people will find wearing one uncomfortable but can get used to it with practice. Face coverings are not harmful to people wearing them
- a few people with a lung condition will find that face masks increase their sensation of breathlessness to the extent they can’t tolerate wearing one
Most people with a lung condition, even if it’s severe, can manage to wear a face mask for a short period of time, and shouldn't worry if they need to wear one. Wearing a mask does not reduce a person’s oxygen supply or cause a build-up of carbon dioxide. You may have read stories that say that it can, but this isn’t true.
Face coverings can make breathing feel uncomfortable. This is mostly because they trap heat. As the weather gets cooler, and in places with air conditioning, wearing a face covering might feel easier.
It’s a good idea to try out wearing a face covering at home – it might not feel comfortable straight away, so it’s worth wearing one for short intervals around the house to try and get used to wearing one. You can also experiment with different types of covering. The feeling of wearing one might take time to get used to, but trying different types and starting with short periods of time can help you feel more comfortable. Bupa has an article on coping with face mask anxiety, you might find useful to read through.
Just having a lung condition doesn’t make you exempt from wearing a face covering. But if you have a lung condition that makes you breathless and find wearing a face covering makes you feel too breathless, the governments in all 4 nations have said you don’t have to wear one, whatever the situation.
We don’t recommend a particular type of face covering for people with lung conditions, so it’s worth trying out different coverings that cover your mouth and nose to find one that’s best for you. If you feel comfortable wearing a mask, please do not use a mask designed for clinical use. The NHS needs these supplies.
Face visors or shields may be worn in addition to a face covering, but not instead of one. This is because they do not adequately cover the nose and mouth.
Read how to make your own cloth face covering. Make sure you wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off. Cloth coverings should be washed after every use and disposable masks disposed of responsibly.
In all 4 nations, the governments have said people who are exempt from wearing a face covering should not be routinely asked to prove their exemption. But we know people are worried about being fined or publicly confronted for not wearing a face covering.
To help explain why you’re not wearing a face covering, we have created a downloadable graphic (JPG 150KB) you can show on your device or print out. The government in England has created their own exemption cards you can save to your phone or print out. In Scotland, you can apply for an official exemption card from the government. The Welsh government has also created an exemption card you can download or print out.
Unfortunately, we can’t print and send out the graphics to you.
This card should help support you when entering shops and supermarkets, and when you’re on public transport. Retailers and transport providers have been told to respect exemptions. However, entry is at the discretion of staff and we are aware some supermarkets are becoming stricter in enforcing mandatory face coverings. If you cannot wear a face covering, we encourage you to check in with your local supermarket to see what proof of exemption they require. We will continue to work with the government to clarify how people with lung conditions who struggle to wear a face covering can identify themselves.
Please only use this card if you can’t wear a face covering because it makes it difficult to breathe. Our advice and exemption graphic applies to wearing a face covering in public. If you’re concerned about wearing a face covering in the workplace, we encourage you to talk openly with your employer about your health concerns. You should use HSE and the latest government guidance on exemptions to have that conversation.
We also know that many bus and train companies are offering their own exemption card which you can print and take with you, or have said customers using their service will not need to prove they’re exempt. For example:
- Arriva exemption card
- First Bus/First Group exemption card
- Nexus journey assistance card
- Stagecoach face covering journey assistance card
- Transport for London exemption card
We recommend getting in touch with your transport provider in advance of your journey to discuss your options.
What you can read next:
- What is coronavirus?
- What if I have symptoms of coronavirus?
- How can I cope with staying at home?
- What should I do if I have COPD?
- What is social shielding?
- What’s the difference between self-isolation, social distancing and social shielding?
Last updated: Wednesday 3 March 2021
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