explainer

Here's why you should continue to wear a mask, according to an expert.

Rules around when we should or shouldn't be wearing a mask have been pretty hard to keep up with lately. 

On Wednesday, the NSW government relaxed a raft of restrictions, with masks now only required on public transport, planes, at airports, and for indoors front-of-house hospitality staff who are not fully vaccinated.

Restrictions for unvaccinated people were also lifted, as were limits for the number of people allowed in your home, hospitality venues and outdoor public gatherings.

But despite masks only being mandatory in certain indoor settings, NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, has strongly urged all of us to keep wearing them. 

"From a public health position, I am strongly recommending we keep masks and I’m asking the community to do so," said Dr Chant. 

"It’s a very tiny act. You’re actually protecting yourself but more importantly you’re protecting others."

"That simple action is very much a community-minded action, and I would urge us to continue to wear those masks in indoor settings."

Watch: Thank you to masks. Post continues below. 


Video via Mamamia. 

Meanwhile, Victorians have also woken up to new mask rules on Thursday. As of today, masks will no longer need to be worn at weddings, funerals or ceremonial settings. However, they still need to be worn in retail and other high-risk settings.

As mask rules ease and case numbers continue to rise around the country, we asked Sydney GP Dr Brad McKay five questions we have about masks right now. 

1. Why should we be wearing face masks? 

"Face masks are one of the most simple and cost effective ways of limiting the spread of COVID-19," Dr McKay told Mamamia. 

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"Face masks are not only able to protect you from getting COVID-19, but are also able to protect other people around you from getting sick if you happen to be COVID-19 positive."

This is because COVID-19 "spreads from person to person via saliva, respiratory droplets (from coughing or sneezing), and even from someone else’s breath wafting around the room". 

"The closer you are to another person with COVID-19, the more likely the virus will be able to travel to you too."

Leading infectious diseases expert, Professor Sharon Lewin, also says masks "definitely give an added benefit" in reducing our chances of contracting COVID-19.

"With Omicron, when there are a lot of unknowns, wearing masks, which are not really that inconvenient, will give an extra layer of protection," she told Mamamia

"You can see Victoria erring on the side of 'let’s hang in there with masks' in some settings for a bit longer, and New South Wales saying 'no more masks'... I personally think, we might as well err on interventions that are not that inconvenient, like mask wearing in retail."

2. Where should we be wearing masks?

Despite relaxed mask rules, Dr McKay says it's a good idea to keep wearing one whenever you’re in a crowded place and are unable to physically distance, including indoors.

"If you’re going to be indoors with poor ventilation, you’re better off wearing a mask. This might include visiting relatives, shopping for groceries or Christmas presents, attending a medical clinic or hospital, and it may even be appropriate to wear a mask at your own workplace."

He also said the idea that COVID-19 is unlikely to spread if you’re outside, isn't exactly black and white.

"There are plenty of grey areas and you need to use common sense. If you’re outside in a wide open space, then there’s little chance of transmission. However, if you’re rubbing shoulders with others at an outdoor music festival, you’re going to be close enough to breathe in someone else’s breath."

"Masks are cheap and easy to use, so if you’re in doubt and wondering if you should be wearing a mask, just put one on."


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3. So then why has the government relaxed restrictions around masks?  

"After being in lockdown for so long with international and state borders closed, the government is keen for the economy to get cracking again - but viruses don’t care about the economy," says Dr McKay.

"Politicians are hopeful that with enough people vaccinated against COVID-19, we’ll be able to navigate our way towards ‘COVID-normal’ - whatever that may be. However, the constant health advice has always been to wear face masks, physically distance, wash your hands, and try to limit the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible."

Dr McKay also pointed out that if we're not taking appropriate precautions, like wearing masks, then we can expect to see case numbers "around the country rise exponentially", which will put further stress on healthcare services. 

4. Should we keep wearing masks even if case numbers start to drop? 

Even though case numbers are on the rise, it doesn't necessarily mean we should just do away with masks if cases start to drop again. 

"QR code check-ins have been reduced in some states. This means many close contacts will no longer be informed of their potential exposure to the virus. This will likely lead to less motivation for testing and less recorded cases, so we’ll have less idea how we’re going," says Dr McKay.  

"For the foreseeable future, the simplest thing you can do to protect your own health and the health of others is to wear a mask when you’re indoors and unable to physically distance. And of course, as soon as you’re eligible for your booster dose, get vaccinated."

5. So, what should we do if others around us aren't wearing masks? 

With mask restrictions easing in NSW and Victoria, there's more chance you'll find yourself around other people who aren't wearing masks. 

In these instances, Dr McKay says the best thing to do is either leave the room or stand as far away from people who aren't wearing masks as you can. 

"If you’re feeling bold you can always ask them politely to wear a face mask to protect themselves and others.

"You may need to gently remind them that SARS-CoV-2 can still be transmitted from person to person even if you feel completely well. That’s why this virus is so good at spreading."

Feature Image: Getty.