A face mask can help reduce the spread in specific situations. A face mask cannot replace the standard measures for infection control but can be a helpful tool in situations where the risk of infection is increased or high.
Recommendations on the use of face masks
Recommendations for public transport
The use of face masks is recommended when travelling by public transport to, from and within areas where the risk of infection is increased or high when it is difficult to keep a one metre distance to others. The recommendation applies to adults and young people from lower secondary school level upwards.
At present, the recommendations are valid for the following areas:
- Oslo (until further notice)
- Bergen (through September 29th 2020)
The recommendations can be extended.
Both a disposable single-use face mask and a re-usable cloth face covering can be used. The face mask should be of the medical face mask type, or a cloth face covering meeting the requirements for community face coverings by Standards Norway (standard.no).
Here you can find further information on the different types of face masks and how to wear them.
Keeping a minimum distance of one metre to others still is the key measure to prevent transmission as this will offer more protection than wearing a face mask.
Recommendations on the use of face masks throughout the COVID-19 pandemic
The Government also recommends that face masks are used in the following situations (not time restricted):
- When you are infected or show symptoms of a COVID-19 infection and need to interrupt the isolation in order to travel to and from a health institution or for testing.
- When you arrive in Norway by air from a red area you should keep wearing the face mask from your flight until you reach the destination where you will implement your quarantine duty period.
- When you are a close contact of someone with a suspected or confirmed COID-19 infection and are unable to keep a distance of one metre when providing necessary care.
Situations where wearing a face mask is mandatory
Wearing a face mask is mandatory if you are over 12 years of age when:
- You travel by public transport from the place of arrival to the place where you will be in quarantine
- You leave Norway prior to completing your quarantine duty period and travel by public transport to your place of departure
- The municipal doctor specifically assesses your situation while you are in transmission quarantine to travel by public transport in order to reach a suitable place of residence.
Children and face masks
The recommendation on wearing a face mask when travelling by public transport in Oslo and Bergen does not apply to children in 7th grade or younger (under 12–13 years).
Under no circumstances should a mask be worn by a child under the age of two years. Covering the face of a young child is a known risk factor for the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
The recommendation to wear a face mask applies to the same type of situations for young people as for adults. The use of face masks is not recommended at school where infection control measures are based on separate guidelines. Young people above the age of 12-13 years are recommended to wear a face mask in certain situations on the same basis as adults and can wear the same size face masks as adults.
Even though our knowledge about the role of children and young people in disease transmission is still incomplete, there are indications that they are not a key group for transmission of the coronavirus. It will be more difficult for a child to properly fit and wear a face mask. Wearing a face mask will increase the risk of restricted breathing.
Why are face masks recommended in some situations?
A face mask can serve as a measure for infection control in situations where the risk of infection is increased or high but can never replace the standard measures (social distancing and hand hygiene).
Transmission of COVID-19 typically occurs when the virus is released from the mouth and nose of an infected person to the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth of another person. The most typical route of transmission is via a person who displays symptoms, but transmission can also occur via a person who do not display any symptoms. The most important measure to avoid transmission is to keep a distance to others, maintain good hand hygiene and stay at home if you are ill.
Based on the present situation the Norwegian Institute of Public Health expects the effect of widespread use of face masks to be minimal and thus there is no basis for recommending the general use of face masks for the entire Norwegian population.
What types of face masks are available?
You can find both medical (two types) and non-medical face masks (cloth face coverings, sometimes referred to as fabric masks).
Medical face masks type I are indented for use in public. These are typically recommended for patients or others that might carry an infection but are not intended for use within the health services.
Medical face masks type II and IIR (liquid repellent) are also referred to as surgical masks intended for health personnel. These should preferably be reserved for use within the health services.
Non-medical face masks/cloth face coverings are indented for single use or reuse outside of the health services. They can be home-made or factory-made, made from fabric or other materials. If you would like to use cloth face coverings, a cloth face covering with a documented effect of at least 70% particle filtering is recommended. See below for recommendations if you would like to make your own face mask / cloth face covering.
How do I properly wear a medical face mask?
- Clean your hands prior to fitting the face mask.
- Make sure to keep the face mask tightly fitted to your face and over the nose.
- Do not wear it below your nose or chin. Do not pull it up and down.
- Wear a face mask type I (type II is intended for health personnel only).
- Wear each face mask only once.
- Change the face mask when it is wet or moist or when you take it off in order to eat etc.
- The face mask should be disposed of in a regular bin immediately after use.
- Clean your hands after you have removed or touched the face mask.
See an illustration for correct use of face masks here (PDF, fhi.no).
How do I properly wear a cloth face covering?
- Clean your hands prior to fitting the cloth face covering.
- Make sure to keep the cloth face covering tightly fitted to your face and over the nose.
- Change to a clean cloth face covering when it is wet or moist or when you take it off in order to eat etc.
- Clean your hands after you have removed or touched the cloth face covering.
- Keep the used cloth face covering in a closed plastic bag until you have an opportunity to wash it.
- Wash the cloth face covering at 60 degrees Celsius between each time you use it.
Correct hygiene when using a face mask
Face masks are uncomfortable to wear. People who wear them over time will typically touch their face as well as the face mask more frequently. Avoid touching the front of your face mask and clean your hands if you do touch it. Also avoid touching the front of your face mask and then touch your eyes or face. Wash your hands after you have removed or touched the face mask.
Where can I get hold of the correct face masks?
You can buy medical face masks type I and several types of cloth face coverings at most pharmacies.
When should I change the face mask and can face masks expire?
Face masks and cloth face coverings have a limited effect and durability and will reach an expiration date. Face masks should be changed regularly, for example when the mask is wet, moist or dirty or when you take it off in order to eat.
Medical face masks are disposable and intended for single use only. Once you have removed the face mask you should not put it back on. It should be disposed of in a bin after use.
Cloth face coverings should not be reworn until they have been washed. They can be washed with other laundry at 60°C or higher.
What are the requirements for home-made face masks?
The Norwegian authorities recommend to follow the guidelines from Standards Norway (standard.no) when making your own face mask /cloth face covering.
This video from the World Health Organization (WHO) can serve as inspiration for making your own mask. The video is intended as a practical demonstration only, as the WHO requirements differ somewhat from those of Standards Norway. The requirements presented by Standards Norway are in line with recommendations from the Norwegian authorities.
Can I eat or drink while wearing a face mask? What if I place it under my chin or leave it hanging by one ear?
No. If you are going to eat or drink you will need to remove the face mask, wash your hands and then fit another face mask or clean cloth face covering.
Do all face masks offer equal protection?
No. Research so far indicates that the efficiency of different types of face masks when it comes to degree of filtering and protection differs. The efficiency will vary with different types of material, production conditions and how well the mask is shaped and fitted. It is important to keep good hand hygiene prior to putting on a face mask, after removing it as well as when you have touched the face mask.
Can I have guests visiting or go to the store while I am ill with symptoms of a respiratory infection if I wear a face mask?
No, if you are ill with symptoms of a respiratory infection you should stay at home. You should not entertain guests and avoid close contact with others. If you have no other option, you can go grocery shopping while taking extra care to maintain good hand hygiene, keep a distance to others, and wear a face mask.
If you are in isolation due to suspected or confirmed COVID-19, you should not go shopping, not even if you are wearing a face mask.
To what extent will a face mask offer protection relative to keeping a 1 metre distance to others?
The documentation on the effect of face masks for the protection against a respiratory infection is ambiguous and points to different conclusions. The overall assessment is that public use of face masks / cloth face coverings can reduce the risk of transmission by approximately 40%. The effect will vary with the quality of the face masks / cloth face coverings and whether the masks are worn correctly. The risk of infection when we keep a distance of at least one metre to others is reduced by approximately 80%. Hence the risk of transmission could increase if we wear a face mask instead of keeping a distance to others of at least one metre.
The use of face mask /cloth face covering cannot replace but be a supplement to the standard measures for infection control: Stay at home if you are ill, get tested if you show symptoms, keep a distance to others and maintain good hand-and cough hygiene.
Are there some adults who cannot wear a face mask?
For medical or other reasons some people might not be able to wear a face mask. Be tolerant about face mask use - both for those who do use them and those who do not.
Will it be safe to travel by a crowded train or bus if most of the passengers are wearing a face mask?
The effect of using a face mask cannot replace the effect of keeping a distance of at least one metre. Social distancing has a bigger impact on infection control than wearing a face mask. It is important that we all take part in the shared responsibility to reduce the number of passengers by 50% compared to the normal situation. This will help make the journey as safe as possible both for our fellow passengers and for the employees.
Employers are encouraged to contribute. Everyone is encouraged to go to work and school by foot or by bicycle, and to adjust our working hours and work from home if possible.