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From 11:59pm on Sunday 2 August 2020, all Victorians must wear a face covering when they leave home, no matter where they live. In this edition of Ask Kelly, I thought I would share the most common questions I’ve been asked about masks so far, as well as provide some resources about disposable and fabric face masks.

Why have we have been told to wear masks now, and not earlier this year?

This second wave of COVID-19 in Victoria comes with much greater cases of community transmission, whereas the first wave was linked to returned travellers. Given that community transmission is now occurring, more stringent measures such as wearing masks, are reasonable.

Wearing a mask is only one measure in preventing the spread of infection. Wearing a mask will only be effective if used correctly and in combination with other measures – namely social distancing, hand hygiene, restricting non-essential social interactions and staying home/getting tested for COVID-19 when feeling unwell.

What are the best kinds of masks?

With many different types of masks now available, it’s important to know what design features will provide the best protection and what features to consider, depending upon your individual needs.

Fabric masks

For reusable fabric/cloth masks, ensure that they are:

  • Made with the cotton materials

  • Made with a least three layers

  • Fit below the chin and on top of the nose

  • Cover at the sides of the mouth without gaping

Fabric masks with additional features
  • Some fabric masks have valves sewn in to assist the wearer to breathe easily. If the mask is made of cotton fabric, then the wearer should not have difficulty breathing. The valve does not improve safety for the wearer and decreases safety for others if the wearer is infected.

  • Some fabric masks allow for disposable filters to be inserted. This adds another layer of filtration. The rationale is to provide more protection; however, this is a preference as some people may find that this added later makes breathing uncomfortable.

  • Nose wire sewn in. The reason that some masks have a wire along the top is to assist fitting the mask against the nose to ensure the best fit possible. Again, this is a preference, as we all have different face/nose shapes. This feature is beneficial in ensuring the best fit.

  • Adjustable straps. Some fabric masks will have different ways to secure them. Look for a mask with elastic loops.

Fabric masks

Disposable masks
  • Surgical masks are recommended for the public when they need to leave home.

  • Must be worn with the correct side facing out.

  • Are once-only use.

  • Can be worn for up to 4 hours, or until damp.

Where can I get masks from?

You can purchase disposable masks online and from chemists/some retail outlets. Fabric masks are available online. If you have a sewing machine and the materials needed, you can also make your own.

Are there different sizes/recommendations for children?

Smaller masks are available for children. The current recommendations for children are:

  • Children/teenagers older than 12 must wear masks when leaving home.

  • If younger children can tolerate wearing masks, this is recommended, but not mandated. Children have smaller airways and therefore may have more difficulty breathing through masks. They are also likely to touch/lick/contaminate their masks, making them ineffective. If children younger than 12 and older than 2 can tolerate masks and not touch their faces, then they should wear them if they must leave their home.

  • Infants/toddlers should not wear masks due to risk of suffocation/choking/strangulation,

What else do I need to know to use a disposable or fabric mask safely/effectively?
  • Watch videos here for how to put on and remove both fabric and disposable face masks correctly

  • Do not slide your mask down onto your neck, or hang off one ear – it will then be contaminated

  • Replace your mask when it becomes damp – it will not provide any protection when moist

  • Don’t touch the front of your mask

  • Do not reuse disposable masks

  • Wash fabric masks daily or when soiled. Wash with laundry powder and rinse thoroughly with warm/hot water (above 40 degrees). Dry completely – in the sun if possible.

  • Put your fabric masks in a clean, plastic zip lock bag between use

  • Keep your disposable masks in the packet they came in or in a clean, plastic zip lock bag until you need to use

Both disposable and fabric masks must be stored correctly (as mentioned above) to prevent contamination.

Do I need to wear a mask in the car?

If you are travelling alone or with members of your household then no. If you are travelling with someone who is not a member of your household – (eg a taxi/Uber driver) or if you need to take public transport, then you must wear a mask.

What about scarves/bandanas?

The Department of Health and Human Safety (DHHS) has recommended either a three-layer fabric mask or a disposable mask in favour of a scarf or bandana, as even doubled over they will not provide the same level of protection. However, if you don’t have a mask available and must leave the home, these coverings are preferable to no face coverings at all.

How to wear a medical mask safely
What individual considerations are there in choosing a mask?
  • People who have CP may have more difficulty putting their masks on or may require assistance to put on and remove their mask. Look for elastic ties that are easy to loop around your ears.

  • Depending on face/ear shape and or sensitivity/sensory challenges, finding a way to adapt the loops may be necessary. Buttons sewn into a headband or hat may be an option. There are also adaptions available online and some hairstyles can help, for those with long hair.

Reasons why someone with CP may not have to wear a mask
  • DHHS has listed exemptions within guidance issued here

  • Some people who have CP also have respiratory conditions and may find breathing through a mask difficult

  • Some people with CP may have difficulties with saliva control – this in turn would result in masks being wet and therefore ineffective. The mask may also trap saliva which can be a safety issue for people with swallowing difficulties

  • People with intellectual disability may not be able to tolerate wearing a mask

  • Further information about exemptions are expected in the coming days/weeks. For individuals with medical/disability rationale I would suggest speaking with your GP about an exemption, you can then have in writing what your reasoning is and have evidence to provide should you be queried about not wearing a mask.

  • I will share more information about this at it becomes available.

For people with a hearing impairment
  • Members of the deaf and hearing-impaired community have raised concerns about communication, as facial expressions and lips cannot be read

  • Face masks with clear windows have been developed, however their effectiveness (related to both fabric area to filter, being able to breath freely and the challenge of condensation fogging the widow) is not known at this stage.

  • NDIS participants can access their funds for a translation/transcribing app.

  • There are also free options for the public or health/education workers eg Google translate

  • Expression Australia have developed communication tools that are downloadable here.

Best practice for using a mask
  • Wash hands

  • Put on mask without touching front

  • Leave home for lawful reason

  • Do not touch or remove face mask whilst out

  • Return home

  • Wash hands

  • Remove mask without touching the front

  • Dispose of mask or put into plastic bag/wash if needed

  • Wash hands

Take home messages
  • Face masks are mandatory when leaving home for the four essential reasons

  • They do not replace other infection control measures and are only effective in combination with hand hygiene and social distancing

  • Some people are exempt from wearing face masks – they are also likely to be vulnerable members of the community. These individuals should not leave home unless necessary, in which instance a discussion with your GP about your exemption is recommended until further guidelines are issued.

This information was current as of 23 July 2020 and was compiled in line with information/guidelines from:

  • Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)

  • NDIS

  • NDS

  • World Health Organisation

  • Expression Australia

Would you like to know more about face masks or infection control? Chat to Kelly by calling 1300 277 600, email – or reach us on our Facebook page.

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