Why it’s still a good idea to wear a mask indoors and in crowded outdoor places

Should you still wear a face mask? Three La Trobe public health experts share their advice on the value of keeping your mask on.

Let’s be honest: no-one loves wearing a face mask. After two years of pandemic restrictions, many of us are experiencing mask fatigue from their prolonged use, as well as feeling burned out from staying up to date with face mask rule changes. Breathing without one feels liberatory.

But according to public health experts at La Trobe University, wearing a mask remains an important COVID-19 safety measure. Here, La Trobe alumni and academics Dr Katrina Lambert, Associate Professor Dr Deborah Gleeson and Associate Professor Dr Rwth Stuckey explain why you should keep a mask handy until the pandemic runs its course.

1. Masks are still recommended

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends wearing a well-fitted mask as part of a comprehensive ‘Do it all!’ approach to reducing COVID-19 transmission and saving lives.

And while wearing a face mask is no longer mandatory in most indoor settings in Victoria, Australia, it’s still recommended, and people are still required to carry a mask at all times.

Wearing a mask is strongly recommended if you’re around people who might be vulnerable to COVID-19 or if you can’t physically distance, including in outdoor settings. Remember, you may unknowingly be around someone who’s vulnerable to COVID-19.

2. Case rates remain high – especially in Australia

Worldwide, daily COVID-19 case numbers are increasing again. At the time of writing, WHO reports a global weekly increase of over 869,000 cases.

In Australia, while daily case numbers are lower than they were in January, the country still has one of the highest rates in the world. And since the beginning of March, Australia’s new case numbers are increasing.

As more people host COVID-19 in their bodies, the chance of the virus mutating and spreading increases. By wearing a face mask when case numbers are on the rise, then, you’re not only reducing your chance of catching and spreading COVID-19 – you’re also doing your bit to help prevent new variants developing.

3. The virus is airborne

Research shows that SARS-CoV-2 is airborne. This means inhaling fine respiratory droplets, called aerosols, is a common way to become infected.

These respiratory droplets can spread a long way and accumulate indoors. Keeping 1.5 metres away from other people simply isn’t enough to protect you from infection.

To reduce airborne transmission, you need to prevent yourself from inhaling the infectious aerosols in the first place. How to do this? You guessed it. Wear a face mask.

4. COVID-19 can be deadly

None of us need reminding that COVID-19 can be fatal. In the last month 951 people have died in Australia alone.

For many of us the symptoms may be mild. However, even mild cases of COVID-19 can lead to long term heart, lung, and brain damage. What’s more, it might be mild for you, but not necessarily for others you come into contact with.

5. Masks are extremely effective

Research shows that masks are highly protective against COVID-19. Wearing a well-fitting face mask – preferably a N95/P2 mask – is one of the main ways you can protect yourself from the virus, along with your colleagues, friends and family.

For example, consistently wearing a N95 or P2 mask lowers your risk of contracting COVID-19 by 83 per cent. Wearing a surgical mask decreases risk by 66 per cent. And wearing a cloth mask on top of the surgical mask can increase its effectiveness, too.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that not everyone who contracts COVID-19 has symptoms. Wearing a well-fitting mask can also help prevent you from spreading COVID-19 while asymptomatic.

About our experts

Dr Katrina Lambert is a lecturer in La Trobe’s School of Psychology and Public Health. She holds a Bachelor of Science (Hons) (2015), a PhD in Health Science (2020) and a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education Curriculum, Teaching and Learning (2021) from La Trobe University.

Associate Professor Dr Deborah Gleeson holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Health Promotion (1998), Master of Public Health (2002) and PhD in Public Health (2010) from La Trobe University.

Associate Professor Dr Rwth Stuckey holds a Diploma of Occupational Therapy (1974), Bachelor of Applied Science (1980) and Graduate Diploma in Ergonomics (1982) from the Lincoln Institute of Health Sciences, an antecedent institution of La Trobe University, as well as a Master of Public Health and a PhD from Monash University.