Health officials are advising all eyecare professionals across Greater Melbourne and Mitchell Shire to wear a standard surgical mask when seeing patients for any reason.
The updated advice from Federal Deputy Chief Medical officer Professor Michael Kidd comes as parts of the Victorian state begin a new six-week lockdown as the number of new COVID-19 infections continues to rise.
Kidd has also reminded allied health professionals that telehealth should be employed where possible during restrictions, Optometry Australia (OA) stated.
Recommended at a meeting of the Primary Care Response Group on Wednesday 8 July, the advice for all health professionals to wear masks in the lockdown zone – regardless of the situation – represents a significant shift from Australian Health Department Officials who have previously not made recommendations on mask use for asymptomatic patients.
In a communique to its members after the meeting, OA noted that supply of masks has improved significantly during the past two months.
“For any optometrist unable to access PPE, the Australian government has previously advised it can provide allied health professionals with some access to the government stockpile of masks,” OA said.
The organisation said an additional 1.5 million masks were added to the stockpile recently. However, it warned optometrists to be aware this is intended as a limited, emergency supply once commercial supply options are exhausted.
“Operating under the assumption that optometrists will triage patients with respiratory and other symptoms, optometry has been classified as moderate priority,” OA stated.
OA’s open-access online advice on face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) notes that information regarding face masks for general consulting in non-COVID-19 suspicious patients has been conflicting, confusing and changes frequently.
The organisation notes that new evidence published in The Lancet on 1 June demonstrated the use of face masks was protective for both healthcare workers and people in the community exposed to infection, with analyses lending support to face mask use irrespective of setting.
The World Health Organization updated its advice on 5 June to recommend that health workers, including community health workers and caregivers, who work in clinical areas should continuously wear a medical mask during their routine activities throughout the entire shift.
OA’s Chief Clinical Officer Luke Arundel commented that if an optometrist is wearing a mask that it is also important to ensure it is being worn correctly. He advised that it is important not to touch the front of the mask when on and if being used on a sessional rather than individual patient basis, to replace the mask as soon as it becomes damp with a clean, dry mask.
OA said optometrists can apply for an emergency supply of masks through their local Primary Health Network (PHN).