Community urged to ‘mask up’

While stories continue emerging of people refusing to wear facemasks in public places, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) is urging people to mask up to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“Wearing a face covering will help reduce community transmission, which is what everyone wants,” says RACGP Victoria Chair, Dr Cameron Loy, who is urging people to follow the advice of health authorities.

“The sooner people mask up in areas of community transmission, the sooner we will get on top of this virus.”

The rules on wearing masks of face covering differ depending on where you live.

The Victorian Government made it mandatory for people over the age of 12 in metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire on 22 July, following a concerning rise in COVID-19 cases.

National advice is to wear a mask or face covering in areas of community transmission where social distancing is difficult.

Dr Loy adds that most people “should be able to wear a face covering”, but there will be some in the community that will have “a legitimate reason not to”.

“It goes without saying that these people must not be discriminated against or ostracised,” he says.

List of lawful exemptions

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services lists the following lawful exemptions for not wearing a face covering:

  • A person who is affected by a relevant medical condition.
  • Persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.
  • Persons for whom wearing a face covering would create a risk to that person’s health and safety related to their work, as determined through OH&S guidelines.
  • Professional sportspeople when training or competing.
  • When undergoing dental treatment or other medical care to the extent that the procedure requires that no face covering may be worn.
  • During emergencies.

For the full list of reasons, visit: dhhs.vic.gov.au/face-coverings-covid-19#lawful-excuses-or-exceptions-for-not-wearing-a-face-covering

Dr Loy adds that while GPs cannot provide ‘exemptions’ for wearing a mask or face covering, they can “provide their assessment of their patient’s medical conditions, which may mean they cannot wear a face covering”.

The RACGP has produced a letter template for GPs to use when they feel that their patient has a legitimate need to not wear a face covering and they may benefit from having this documented.

“GPs should use these letters wisely, as with all medical certificates.

“It is for the greater public health good that all those who can wear a face covering, do,” he says.

‘Remember to mask up’

“In these difficult times when we are seeing community transmission in many places, we all need to do our bit,” says Dr Loy.

“Whenever you leave your home, remember to mask up.”

Dr Loy points out that this is not just about protecting yourself. It’s also about protecting your loved ones and those in the community.

“And remember: a face mask or covering is not a suit of armour against COVID-19.

“People still need to follow the other advice to stay safe, including maintaining physical distance of 1.5 meters from others, regular hand washing, and coughing and sneezing into your elbow.”

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