It’s 2020 and face masks are the new black.
Not just a surgery trend any more, the humble mask has now been touted as an essential part of Australia’s COVID-19 response.
The health department now recommends donning a mask if you’re in Melbourne or a hotspot where community transmission is occurring and physical distancing is difficult.
The change in directive came after debate over if it would be helpful for the general population to wear masks.
Well, turns out it is – but only if you use them properly.
Masks were out, now they’re in – what’s the deal?
For a long time, the jury was out on the effectiveness of the general population wearing masks.
However Melbourne has an increasingly high rate of community transmission so it’s time to roll them out.
The change of heart came last Friday, when federal deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth Victorians to wear masks, and even make their own, to help curb the spread of the coronavirus in the state.
Mask expert and epidemiologist Dr Abrar Ahmad Chughtai said it comes down to the local transmission.
“We need to look at local transmission. In Melbourne it’s high, so everyone should use it. Not everyone in Sydney need to use them at this stage. We can just see how it unfolds,” Dr Chughtai said.
“If the area is high risk, people should use them.”
If you don’t live in Melbourne or a hotspot, you are currently OK to go mask free.
Who do they help?
You. Your neighbour. Your neighbour’s cousin. If there’s local transmission, it helps the whole community if everyone wears a mask.
It’s not just about protecting you from picking up the virus, it’s about stopping you spread it even if you’re asymptomatic.
“Masks prevent the spread of infection,” Dr Chughtai said.
“It’s not just about saying ‘OK I need extra protection’ because maybe you’re infected – 45 per cent of cases are asymptomatic. At this point, we don’t know who is sick or healthy.
“We need to tell people masks use isn’t just for them, it’s for everyone.
“If we’re talking about high community transmission like Melbourne, we need to convince people to wear a mask.
“It’s for their protection as well and those around them.”
Which one do I wear?
Not all masks are created equal. There are two main categories: Surgical masks and cloth masks.
“In a community setting, we have two choices: If you have surgical masks you can use that. Otherwise use cloth masks that are three layers and tight on the face,” Dr Chughtai said.
How do I wear it properly?
One does not simply put on a mask. We need to be doing it right.
The health department recommends you follow these four steps:
- Wash your hands before putting on the mask
- Make sure it covers your nose and mouth and fits tightly
- Do not touch the front of the mask while it is on or when removing it (and if you do so accidentally, wash or clean your hands immediately)
- Wash your hands after removing the mask.
Dr Chughtai said the most important thing is to not touch your face.
“While using a mask some people are still touching their face. We should not touch the outer surface. It could be contaminated,” he said.
If you’re wearing a cloth mask you should wash it when it becomes damp.
“Don’t re-use it without cleaning it. When you remove the mask put it in the bucket with hot water and detergent, and clean it.”
And when it’s time to throw it out, put it in the bin.