Masks beneficial to combat community transmission of COVID-19

An opinion piece from the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd about the benefits of wearing face masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

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The nature of Australia’s COVID-19 pandemic has changed in Victoria and New South Wales, with outbreaks of community transmission now occurring – and the wearing of masks is playing a significant role in helping to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Wearing masks is an important additional measure to help combat COVID-19.

It is vital, however, people do not stop doing all the other things they were doing to stop COVID-19 from spreading.

Physical distancing is still the most effective way we have to stop COVID-19 from spreading – even among people wearing masks. And the wearing of a mask doesn’t mean you can stop practising good hand hygiene.

The wearing of masks is now either required or recommended in Victoria (depending on where you live) because of the higher rates of coronavirus community transmission in that state. This measure will help to keep individuals, the members of their families and other members of the community safe from COVID-19.

New South Wales residents, especially those in areas where outbreaks have occurred, are encouraged to wear face masks, in particular in situations where physical distancing is not possible.

A mask can help to prevent the person wearing it from contracting COVID-19, and stop someone else from becoming infected.

If a person shows signs of COVID-19 (which include fever, a cough, a sore throat, or shortness of breath) and has to leave their home to be tested, a mask will reduce the likelihood of that person spreading the virus, if indeed they are infected.

It is also increasingly apparent that many people who contract the coronavirus only have mild symptoms – or even no symptoms at all. These people will not know if they are transmitting COVID-19 to others – something which can occur in a variety of ways, including by a person who is in close proximity.

The wearing of a mask can help to stop an asymptomatic person’s respiratory droplets spreading the virus to another person.

This is why all aged care workers across Victoria are now required to wear face masks, in both residential care and home support care, when in the presence of residents.

For all the benefits a mask can provide in certain circumstances, there are challenges associated with some people wearing them.

For many people, wearing a mask may seem odd or uncomfortable the first time it is worn.  Please be assured that people rapidly become used to wearing a mask when outside their homes, just as millions and millions of people have in countries all around the world where mask use is now mandatory.

For a mask to be effective, it needs to be properly fitted, covering a person’s mouth and nose. The person wearing it also needs to avoid the temptation to touch the mask while it is being worn. Before someone puts on a mask, and after taking a mask off, they should wash or sanitise their hands.

Single-use masks can generally be worn for up to four hours before they have to be replaced – and such masks should be disposed of properly in a bin.

Cloth masks made of 3 layers of cotton can be reused, but must be thoroughly washed and dried – at least daily.

In circumstances when there is high community transmission of the coronavirus, masks play an important role.

But they should never be seen as a reason not to do all the other things we should all be doing to fight this coronavirus – including physical distancing and practising good hygiene.


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