As Tasmania's COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease, many people are choosing to wear face masks while out in public.
However, Public Health advice on the issue remains the same - if people are well, they do not need to wear a face mask.
This message was reiterated by Tasmania's Director of Public Mark Veitch on Thursday.
"The consistent advice that has been provided through an expert advisory group on masks, to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, and from there to national cabinet, is that there is no need for people who are healthy to wear masks in public," he said.
"That includes public transport. It includes lifts which you're in for only seconds.
"But if you are going to your doctor ... and you're unwell, that is one circumstance where if you have the sniffles, and you are going to your doctor or to a testing centre and you have a mask, it's a good thing to wear one in those circumstances."
So ... when should you wear a face mask?
Around the world, the guidelines on face masks vary significantly between peak health bodies and governments.
For example, in Israel the wearing of face masks in public was made compulsory in April. In America, cloth or fabric face coverings are recommended for people when they are in public places.
However, because Australia's rate of asymptomatic cases (people with COVID-19 who show no symptoms) and community transmission has remained comparability lower than in other countries, widespread face mask use in the community has been considered unnecessary.
According to the World Health Organisation, face masks are only advised for people who are coughing, sneezing, or caring for people with or suspected of having COVID-19.
Tasmania's Public Health advice remains that if people are well, the do not need to wear a face mask. Face masks are generally for people who are sick. There is no reason to wear a face mask for protection against COVID-19, unless you are directly caring for people who are suspected cases.
Face masks are generally for people who are suspected or known to have the virus and people in close contact (within 1.5 metres) of someone suspected or known to be infected. This is normally only healthcare workers and carers.
People who are sick with COVID-19 should, if they can, wear a face mask when they need to leave quarantine. Examples of this include when they go to get tested or go to see a doctor.
However, face masks are only effective when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water. If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.
How do face masks work?
The main purpose behind the use of face masks in the community is to prevent sick people from further spreading their infection.
Coronavirus spreads from person-to-person through:
- direct close contact with a person while they are infectious
- close contact with a person with a confirmed infection who coughs or sneezes
- touching objects or surfaces (such as door handles or tables) contaminated by a cough or sneeze from a person with a confirmed infection, and then touching your mouth or face
Most infections are only transmitted by people when they have symptoms. So because COVID-19 is mostly spread via respiratory droplets - like when we sneeze or cough - face masks can help reduce these droplets.
Can masks protect against new coronavirus infection?
In short, no. Face masks cannot protect someone from contracting coronavirus when used alone. Wearing a face mask must be combined with other hygiene measures, such as washing your hands.
WHO only recommends the use of masks in specific cases - if you have a cough, fever, and difficulty breathing, you should wear a mask and seek medical care.
If you do not have these symptoms, you do not have to wear a face mask. According to WHO, there is no evidence that they protect people who are not sick. However, if you are healthy and taking care of a person who may be infected with COVID-19, then you should wear a mask when in the same room as that person.
If you are going to wear one, be safe
Be careful to use face masks properly. Follow the steps below to help protect others around you:
- If given masks by your GP, leave the masks in a zip-lock bag until you need to use them.
- Before putting on a face mask, wash your hands all over with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub. Dry your hands well.
- To put the mask on, cover your mouth and nose with the mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask. Tie it in place.
- Once your mask is on, don't touch it. If you do touch it, wash your hands all over with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
- Replace the mask with a new one if it gets damp. Do not reuse masks.
- To remove the mask: undo the straps and remove the mask without touching the front of it. Put it straight in the rubbish. Wash your hands all over with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub. Dry your hands well.
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