The World Health Organisation advises that people should wear face masks in public when it’s impossible to maintain social distancing. This measure should help to reduce the transmission of coronavirus. In Australia, regional governments will impose mandatory mask–wearing in public as and when the rate of transmission rises. At present, the Victorian government is making it mandatory for people to wear masks when out in public – including on public transport – from midnight on Sunday August 2. Anyone not complying could face a fine of $200. Which other states and territories require masks in public? Victoria It’s been mandatory for people to wear masks in Metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire since July 22 and on August 2 the same rules will apply across the entire state. ACT. Masks aren’t required but watch out for announcements. NSW. Masks aren’t required by they’re strongly recommended on public transport. Northern Territory. Not yet required. Queensland. Not yet required. South Australia. Not yet required. Tasmania. Not yet required. Western Australia. Not yet required. Should you consider wearing a face mask? Regulations for masks are set by local and regional governments, but the WHO and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have differing opinions about masks for all. The WHO recommends masks for health care workers, for people caring for a sick friend or relative, or for people who are sick themselves. These people should wear a medical–grade face mask. It’s also recommended that people living in an area where transmission of covid-19 is rising, aged over 60 or who have underlying health conditions, should also wear masks. Fabric masks are especially recommended for people living in areas of high transmission and who can’t always social distance. For example, shop and restaurant workers, commuters and bus drivers. The CDC, on the other hand, recommends masks for when you’re in public or with with people not from your household, whether you’re indoors or outside. It doesn’t matter if you feel sick or not. The difference between the WHO and CDC advice is that you should only use medical – grade masks if you’re working in healthcare. These masks are in short supply and so they need to be prioritised. Do I have to wear a face mask? If it’s required in your area, then you do have to wear a mask or you may receive a $200 fine. If it’s not required, then you don’t have to don a mask, even if it’s recommended. Only healthcare workers, the vulnerable and people who have suspected covid-19 should wear masks. How effective are masks? The CDC says that face masks are effective in reducing the amount of virus that can be transmitted and so they’re recommended when you can’t maintain social distancing effectively. Masks are at their most effective when you’re distancing and washing your hands. Primarily, masks protect the people around you, not so much you. Which face mask do I need? If you’re working in healthcare you should use a P2 or an N95 mask. If you suspect you’re unwell, wear a surgical mask. If you have no symptoms at all, or you’ve just received a negative covid-19 test, a cloth mask will suffice. Are disposable masks effective? Surgical (or disposable) masks aren’t as effective as P2 or N95 masks, but if you’re working in healthcare or you have suspected covid-19, then you should wear one. To increase the effectiveness of your mask, don’t touch your face, eyes or nose while you’re wearing it; if you do, wash or sanitise your hands immediately. Discard your mask after one use by removing it using the elastic straps, placing it in a bag or a sealed bin and wash your hands straight afterwards. How long can you wear a disposable mask for? Surgical masks aren’t meant to be reused and you should change them every few hours. In practice, this means binning your mask when you get home from the shops, the school run, or getting off the train or bus. If a mask is ripped, damp or has been handled by someone else, don’t use it. Do I have to keep buying new masks? If you’re using solely surgical masks, then yes, you’ll need to have a constant supply. If, on the other hand, you’re using cloth masks, then you can use these a number of times, as long as you wash and dry it after each use. Even some cloth masks can only be used and washed a number of times before they lose effectiveness, so check with the manufacturer so that you know when you need to replace yours. Will cloth masks protect me from covid-19? Some masks, such as N95 and triple–layer surgical masks do offer some protection to the wearer, but primarily masks are meant to prevent droplets from the wearer’s nose and mouth reaching anyone else’s airways. Viral particles are suspended in these droplets and if another person inhales them, they could be infected. Reducing the number of droplets, especially the larger ones, escaping into the air (they get caught up in the fibres of the mask) reduces the risks to others. If everyone (or most people) wears a mask, the transmission of the virus is reduced and controlled, especially if social distance and good hand hygiene is practised. Masks aren’t the only answer, it’s rather that they’re another line of defence and protection that can come into effect when it’s difficult to maintain distance.