Last week many of us didn't even own a face mask. Now it's recommended we all get hold of them as everybody outside Auckland moves to Covid-19 alert level 2.
On Thursday last week Health Minister Chris Hipkins announced Kiwis would be encouraged to wear masks in public places if New Zealand moved back to level 2, and encouraged them to prepare some in the meantime. The new advice came after a Chinese study reviewed N95 respirator masks, medical masks and home-made ones and found that wearing one, along with instant hand wiping, could help slow the spread of coronavirus.
Advice on the Covid19.govt.nz website says that at alert level 2 the risk of Covid-19 being in the community is higher and people should wear masks when physical distancing is not possible, like on public transport or in shops.
Life Pharmacy Taupō owner David Stewart said mask requirements for essential workers remain the same and said when at the level 4 lockdown in April essential workers were commonly wearing the N95 disposable protective mask for short periods, available singly for $7.95 at Life Pharmacy, or settling for the surgical masks for extended wear.
"The N95 mask is sealed against the face. There is an adjustable metal piece around the bridge of the nose and critically the mask offers a filtration rate of 0.3 microns," said Stewart.
He said the downside of the mask is that glasses fog up, it's very difficult to talk, it is quite uncomfortable to wear, and there is a knack to sucking in the air so the mask forms a perfect seal.
"During the last lockdown people were coming into the pharmacy and the N95 mask was on upside down, they were lifting the mask off their face because they wanted to talk, and they were touching the mask with their hands."
He said the surgical masks were a more comfortable alternative for essential workers or those taking particular care of their health.
David said extended use of any mask would result in it becoming damp and ineffective. Home made masks, he said, were great for people practicing social distancing.
"But you have to be careful if you are going to sneeze. A sneeze can come out at 160km/h. I am not sure if the home made masks will retain that."
Stewart said getting children to co-operate with effective mask wearing for sustained periods was difficult.
Disposable masks were available at Pak'n Save Taupō on Tuesday. Store manager Dalvinder Sandhu said the store was stocking packs of 25 for $29.99.
Pak'n Save Taupō also sells PM2.5 masks - issued to supermarket staff during alert level 4 - and surgical masks. Sandhu said the masks were very effective but because they were uncomfortable after a long period of time, many staff had elected to wear surgical masks.
Concerns about the environment have lead to a demand for reusable masks, and these are available in Taupō from Sarah Treloar on Sundays at Market Central. Treloar said her masks are a double layer of fabric and designed to be quite loose around the mouth for comfort. Adult masks cost $10 and children's masks cost $7.
"Being loose around the mouth seems to work best for getting kids to wear them for a longer period of time," said Treloar.
After coming through Hong Kong where everyone was wearing face masks this year, Simplyfly Suits owner Catherine du Plessi branched out from making skydiving suits to face masks for social distancing. She said her masks offer a triple layer, with the middle layer removable. Available for sale through Facebook page @simplyflysuits, the masks come in different sizes and cost $15.
"I got the design from a nurse in the US who posted the design for face masks so people could make them at home when PPE was completely unavailable in her state," said du Plessi.