As public servants return to offices the option to wear a mask is now up to them in many workplaces, but health experts say masks remain useful in reducing the risks of COVID.
At the Department of Home Affairs, workers who are required to wear a mask are being issued one by the department and this now extends to staff who choose to continue to wear a mask.
“Staff who choose to wear a mask voluntarily while at work may do so and are required to wear a mask issued by the department,” a Home Affairs spokesperson said.
“Staff can wear their own personal mask for the purposes of travelling to and from work on public transport.”
The federal Health Department also supports staff choosing to wear a mask in offices.
“Throughout the pandemic, the department has reminded staff of the steps they need to take to stay COVID-safe and this will continue through this next stage,” the department said.
Deakin University chair of epidemiology professor Catherine Bennett said wearing a mask would still help to protect people most vulnerable to the virus.
“A change in the rules doesn’t necessarily directly change what people do,” Bennett told The Mandarin.
“It’s not saying they can’t wear masks, it’s just saying they no longer have to … it’s absolutely OK now to wear masks”
She said a combination of people getting third vaccination doses and not attending offices if symptomatic would help keep workplaces safe.
“If you’re going to wear a mask, make sure you do it well,” Bennett said, adding N95 masks offered the strongest protection.
“There’s no point in wearing a cloth mask loosely or under the nose.”
She said wearing a mask on public transport remained another way of keeping transmission out of offices.
“All of those things working together mean we have quite a good degree of control. I think we can do this and do it safely,” Bennett said.
Deakin University associate professor Hassan Vally said he expected there would be a transition period as people became comfortable with working in offices again.
“It depends on the office set up as much as anything else,” Vally said.
“The great thing about the situation we are in … people can choose to wear a mask if that gives them more reassurance and it fits in with their own personal situation and any other risk concerns.”
Vally said he supported the epidemiology behind people returning to offices in Victoria.
“We have people double and triple vaccinated, if we don’t go back now the question is when are we going to start to go back?”
“I feel like the risk has come down enough that we have to start taking these steps forward.”