August 24, 2020

Protecting yourself and others – the mask works both ways

August 24, 2020

Protecting yourself and others – the mask works both ways

There has been a lot of confusion since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold about the efficacy of wearing face masks in public. In the early days of the pandemic, there was reluctance to mandate the wearing of face masks because there simply weren’t enough to go around. But now that supply chains are more secure, and most hospitals and health care facilities are properly stocked with PPE, there seems to be no reason not to “mask up”. We asked Dr Ron Shnier, our Chief Medical Officer, to clarify the latest thinking on the mask issue.

“Masks have been central to infection control in healthcare since the end of the 19th century, when doctors were first alerted to the idea that respiratory droplets carried bacteria. Doctors began to wear masks to protect their patients during operations. During the influenza epidemic of 1918-19, masks became a way of protecting the wearer against infection as well.

“Outside of the hospital or clinical setting, masks can be effective in preventing infection. As we are seeing on the television every night, the populations of many countries of the world have adopted wearing masks – sometimes just simple cotton ones, or improvising with scarves wrapped around the face. In Australia, our leaders and industry groups are now encouraging the general public to wear masks in public when social distancing guidelines can or might not be possible, such as in shopping centres, at sporting fixtures, places of worship, or on public transport. 

“It’s clear to me that masks are going to become part of our daily life for the foreseeable future. We’re going to have to get used I to it.

“If you are coming for an appointment at one of our clinics, you may notice clinic staff are wearing masks, and you may be asked to wear one as well, depending on the location. If you have a mask, please wear it into the clinic. In Melbourne, we have instituted extra precautions in our clinics to ensure a safe space for patients and clinic staff alike.

“Of course, wearing a mask shouldn’t give you a false sense of security,” Dr Shnier warns. “It doesn’t mean we can ignore the most important tools to fight infection -  frequent, thorough hand washing, (or using hand sanitiser when hand washing is not available) and maintaining a physical distance from people outside of your home environment. Also importantly, if you have any symptoms of respiratory illness or fever, get tested and stay home until you have the results back. Together, we can prevent infection,” says Dr Shnier.

Further reading:

Some interesting statistics about the efficacy of mandatory mask-wearing - Masks for all? The science says yes.

The consensus is that it is safer for the public to wear masks - To mask or not to mask? Is that the question?

NSW Government’s COVID-10 Critical Intelligence Unit Evidence Check - Face masks and COVID-19 transmission in the community