Western Australia to mandate masks in some medical settings as Covid-19 cases rise

An Australian state will reintroduce a strict Covid measure for the first time since a health “state of emergency” was ended more than a year ago.

It’s part of a bid to lessen the impact of a new wave of Covid-19.

Western Australia Premier Roger Cook has announced that from Monday mask wearing will be mandatory for staff and patients in “high-risk” zones of hospitals.

This will including areas involved in haematology, oncology, organ transplant and renal dialysis as well as around patients in intensive care units and similar.

Mask wearing will be encouraged for everyone in all clinical areas of hospitals

“We need to do what we can to make sure we’re keeping each other safe – especially our most vulnerable,” said Mr Cook on Facebook.

“It’s a simple measure that will reduce the spread of Covid-19 and help keep our most vulnerable safe.”

The Premier himself contracted Covid-19 recently.

Cases of Covid have been rising across Australia since September with the county now in an eighth wave.

It is primarily being fuelled by the Omicron XBB variant EG.5.

In the first week of November, there were 6605 new confirmed cases across the country — representing a 20 per cent increase on the previous week.

In WA, authorities said there 57 new hospital admissions and four admissions into an intensive care unit in the week up to November 12. Four elderly residents of the state died of Covid-19 last week.

Western Australia has not had mandatory health measures since the Covid-19 state of emergency was ended in October 2022.

Chief health officer Andy Robertson said the immunity of Western Australians was waning.

“Given the increase in Covid hospitalisations and health staff off sick, health service providers have agreed on consistent mask recommendations across our public health system,” he said.

“Covid is very much still with us and my advice for the community remains the same — stay home if you are sick and do not visit high-risk settings such as aged care facilities and hospitals if you have cold or flu symptoms”.

Mr Robertson said people should consider wearing a mask in crowded settings or where they could not be physically distance and consider getting a booster shot particularly if they were older or had health issues.

The Australian Medial Association (AMA) WA head Michael Page said he “absolutely supported” reintroducing masks in hospitals.

“It’s about protecting the most vulnerable patients. For other members of the community to be asked to protect them, by wearing a mask when they’re in proximity to them in a clinical environment is not a big ask.”

Health authorities across the country have noted the up tick in transmission.

Data from New South Wales Health showed that in the last fortnight, 4733 news cases of Covid-19 has been reported in that state alone.

It said community transmission now considered “moderate to high”.

Queensland’s AMA president Maria Boulton said this week that the public should be encouraged to wear masks in medical settings, aeroplanes and in crowds.

“Of course, a mask mandate would be the decision of the chief health officer but hospitalisations are rising and the health workforce is stretched to breaking point and cannot cope with another overload of patients over the holidays,” she said.

But Queensland’s chief health officer Dr John Gerrard has said the state won’t bring back “disproportionate” mask mandates.

“We do have a wave, but these waves are getting milder,” he said on Wednesday afternoon.

Dr Gerrard added individual healthcare facilities could determine their own need for masking, which will vary.

“It’s particularly important in aged care, and that message is not getting through … I am concerned about aged care facilities, because I think there is some slippage there, so I would encourage relatives to get their relatives vaccinated.”

Infectious diseases physician and microbiologist at the Canberra Hospital, Professor Peter Collignon said people should wear a mask if there was an increased risk or they were concerned, and consider eye protection too, “but no mandates”.

“The current wave likely already declining and will be down to low levels by Christmas,” he said on Wednesday.

Prof Collignon added there was “little or likely no point” wearing a mask outside.

On Today, Dr Nick Coatsworth said masks only worked if worn in conjunction with other measures such as “social distancing and movement restrictions” which he assured “we are not going back to”.

He said that while come people were being hospitalised with Covid-19 during the current wave, the number was almost insignificant when compared to total hospital admissions.

“Covid-19 is now a milder disease because of what we call herd immunity, we have all been exposed to it.”

Originally published as Western Australia to mandate masks in some medical settings as Covid-19 cases rise

Cristeen Gonzama

Cristeen Gonzales writes about health and medicine. She tends toward stories that reveal the on-the-ground impact of health policy, with a particular focus on the opioid epidemic, Covid-19 and abortion.

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