Coronavirus lockdown:Should Victorians be wearing face masks?

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Coronavirus lockdown:Should Victorians be wearing face masks?

While many countries around the world have adopted wearing a face mask, Australia has so far resisted. But with cases on the rise in Victoria, Dr. Sam Hay believes it’s probably a good idea. 

Australian experts are now saying Victorians should be wearing face masks, after a recent resurgence of the novel coronavirus in Melbourne and surrounding areas has forced the state to go into lockdown again.

“Early on in the crisis, there was a widespread opinion that they offered little protection to the general punter. For those in regular close contact with COVID cases they did offer important protection,” says Dr Sam Hay.

“[But] because community transmission rates are increasing, it’s hard to argue not using them in Melbourne at the moment, so long as you are also super vigilant with hand hygiene and social distancing.”

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Around the world

Indeed, in many cities around the world where the virus has exploded – New York City, Italy, Spain, for example – it has become a societal expectation to wear face masks in addition to physical distancing and frequent handwashing.

Dr Hay stresses, however, that face masks must be worn correctly to be effective: they need to cover the nose and mouth and have little to no gaps on the sides or under your eyes.

“There’s no point in using them if you’re only going to touch and play with them constantly, which may transmit any virus onto your hands.”

Basically, they shouldn’t be a reason for you to give up on everything else. You still need to socially distance and wash your hands regularly.

It can be fashionable

Your mask doesn’t necessarily need to be medical grade, as those supplies should be reserved for healthcare workers and others on the front line of the pandemic.

A cloth covering should suffice whenever you’re in a space where social distancing isn’t possible; so it’s not necessary if you’re outdoors exercising but inside the supermarket (especially with the return of panic-buying) is wise.

The bonus is, cloth masks can be washed, reused, and even designed to coordinate with your outfit. We also love the initiative many designers are taking by using their fabric offcuts to produce the masks, which means less waste.

Perhaps the biggest misconception of mask-wearing is that it predominantly protects the wearer, but many studies have shown that, while wearing a mask does offer some protection to the individual, it’s more important for preventing transmission to others through the water droplets we expel through breathing, sneezing, or coughing. This is an airborne virus, after all.

“There’s enough evidence to say that the best benefit is for people who have COVID-19 to protect them from giving COVID-19 to other people, but you’re still going to get a benefit from wearing a mask if you don’t have COVID-19,” infectious disease specialist Peter Chin-Hong told the University of San Francisco’s medical blog.

This is especially important for those with coronavirus who are pre-symptomatic; those who are infected but have not yet shown symptoms.

“All of the best evidence suggests that people without symptoms can and do readily spread SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19,” a press release from the Harvard Global Health Institute said last month.

“In fact, some evidence suggests that people may be most infectious in the days before they become symptomatic — that is, in the pre-symptomatic phase when they feel well, have no symptoms, but may be shedding substantial amounts of virus.”

Bottom line? Follow the rules, obey social distancing, wash your hands often, and it’s a good idea to wear a mask. The sooner that happens, the sooner this will all be over.

Dr Sam Hay is a principal GP at Your Doctors in Sydney.

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