Updated 8 July 2020
This article was written a week before Melbourne and Mitchell Shire in Victoria resumed Stage 3 restrictions from 11.59pm 8 July 2020. The advice from the government about wearing face masks has not changed at this stage, however if you’re concerned and would like to know more about wearing face masks, and how to make your own, read on for more info. We’ve included new links in the More to Explore section from The Australian Medical Association: Masks an option for COVID-19 hotspots and The Conversation: Victorians, and anyone else at risk, should now be wearing face masks. Here’s how to make one.
Just as restrictions began easing across Australia, Victoria started recording outbreaks of COVID cases. For more than two weeks the number of Victorians infected has been in the double-digits 😯 And on Wednesday many suburbs in Victoria were locked down to stop the spread of the virus.
So if you’re immunosuppressed and feeling really vulnerable no one can blame you. This is a scary time, and having a condition or taking medication that makes you more at risk of getting ill from any contagion or infection, adds another level to this.
Although, we’re being advised to stay at home as much as possible, sometimes we just have to go outside the house. Some of us can’t work from home, or we have an appointment that can’t be done online or via video chat, or we have to use public transport.
So how do we protect ourselves when we have to go out?
Three months ago we wrote a blog about face masks. We thought it was timely to revisit this blog in light of the latest evidence, and advice from the Australian Government.
The advice from our government
“In Australia the routine use of face masks in the community is currently not recommended, while the rate of community transmission of COVID-19 is low.” (1)
“However, some members of the public may choose to wear a mask in situations where it is not feasible to maintain physical distancing e.g. on public transport and/or if they are at increased risk of severe illness if infected (e.g. because of their age or a chronic medical condition). This may provide some additional protection in these circumstances.” (2)
This advice takes into account the fact that restrictions are easing, and people are going out more. And with the opening up of our communities, the risk of coming into contact with people who have the virus, whether they appear to have it or not, is increased.
The advice also reinforces the message that masks aren’t a substitute for all the other things we’ve been doing: staying at home as much as possible, physical distancing, washing/disinfecting our hands regularly, not touching our face, coughing/sneezing into our elbow and staying home when we’re sick.
A recent article published in The Lancet reported on a systematic review and meta-analysis that investigated a range of measures used to prevent person-to-person virus transmission. It looked at physical distancing, eye protection and the use of face masks.
Researchers analysed hundreds of studies involving SARS-CoV2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), as well as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), across 16 countries in health-care and non-health-care settings, including more than 25,000 people.
They conclude that “wearing face masks protects people (both health-care workers and the general public) against infection by these coronaviruses”. (3)
However the authors also state that “none of these interventions offers complete protection and other basic protective measures (such as hand hygiene) are essential to reduce transmission.” (4)
While there were several limitations with this study, it does provide some reasonable evidence for the use of masks by the general public.
So if you choose to wear a mask there are some things to keep in mind:
- Don’t let it give you a false sense of security. Masks will provide some level of protection – depending on what they’re made of, how porous the fabric is, how well you use them – but they’re not a magical, virus-repelling shield (though how cool would that be?)
- Use it correctly:
- Wash or sanitise your hands thoroughly before you put a mask on and when you take it off.
- Only touch the mask by the straps.
- Make sure it covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose and against the sides of your face.
- Don’t touch the front of the mask when you wear it. That means no pulling it down to talk to someone, to eat or drink or to smoke a cigarette – seriously!
- And don’t touch the front of the mask when you remove it. If you do accidentally touch it, wash or sanitise your hands immediately.
Basically imagine the front of your mask is covered in something messy or gross – like paint or a virus (!) – that you don’t want to get all over yourself and the things you touch (e.g. your phone, your kids).
- If it’s a disposable, single use mask, only use it once and then dispose of it properly.
- If it’s a cloth mask, wash it thoroughly in warm, soapy water and allow it to dry properly before you use it again.
- Don’t wear a mask if you have breathing difficulties or when you’re exercising.
- Don’t put a mask on a baby or small child.
- Replace the mask if it gets damp or wet, or if you sneeze inside it.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has some great videos to help you learn how to use a mask correctly.
Contact our free national Help Line
If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealth, managing your pain or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (email@example.com) or via Messenger.
More to Explore
- Masks an option for COVID-19 hotspots
Australian Medical Association, 8 July 2020
- Victorians, and anyone else at risk, should now be wearing face masks. Here’s how to make one
The Conversation, 7 July 2020
- Should I wear a face mask? What is the latest advice for the Victorian coronavirus lockdown?
ABC News, 8 July 2020
- Use of masks by the public in the community
Australian Government Department of Health, updated 11 June 2020
- Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis
The Lancet, 1 June 2020
- Why it could be dangerous to exercise with a face mask on
The Conversation, 15 June, 2020
- Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: When and how to use masks
WHO, updated 19 June 2020
(1-2) Use of masks by the public in the community
Australian Government Department of Health, updated 11 June 2020
Photo by visuals on Unsplash