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NSW optometrists only require mask in hotspot zones  

Health authorities have updated mask advice for optometrists in New South Wales, which now only applies in hotspot areas as opposed to a blanket recommendation originally announced for the whole state.

On Thursday 30 July, Optometry NSW/ACT stated that NSW Health had updated and clarified its position to recommend that all health professionals working in identified hotspot areas wear a face mask when engaged in a close-quarters clinical setting with patients.

Up until that point, NSW health professionals were operating under a tighter recommendation by Secretary of NSW Health Ms Elizabeth Koff on 24 July 2020 advising all health workers in the state wear surgical masks if they are within 1.5m of a patient. However, these measures were not legally enforceable for private practices.

In the latest Facebook post addressing the issue, Optometry NSW/ACT CEO Mr Andrew McKinnon said the most current advice now only related to optometrists in the hotspot areas.

These included Campbelltown City (10 cases), Fairfield City (38), Liverpool City (41), Sydney City (8), Eastern Sydney (Waverley – including Bondi and the beaches) (5), Parramatta City (16) and Batemans Bay (3).

Other areas with multiple cases include Cumberland (26), Canterbury-Bankstown (19), Blacktown (12), The Hills Shire (7), Wollongoing (5) and Inner West (5), George’s River (5) and Wollondilly (4).

Editor’s note: These figures are correct as of 2 August and are subject to change. They and will be updated if/when appropriate.

The advice extends to support staff working in affected practices where they are in close-quarter proximity to patients. It is also recommended patients wear a mask in similar settings.

“These are the recommendations of NSW Health – they are not mandatory,” McKinnon said.

“NSW Health does not have jurisdiction over private practitioners. The mandating of mask wear applies only in the public system and in that context applies to all public hospitals and community health facilities in NSW.”

NSW health is also recommending patients wear masks in affected areas.

In further advice, NSW Health stated that if a surgical mask can be worn without pulling it down or removing, it can be worn for up to four hours. However, it should be replaced earlier if it becomes damp.

Due to cloth masks varying in quality and effectiveness, they are not advised for practitioners in healthcare settings.

Latest Victoria advice

On Sunday 2 August, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews announced from midnight that all residents must wear a face covering when they leave home, no matter where they live.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Victorian website on 22 July stated all healthcare workers must wear a level 1 or type 1 disposable surgical mask in public-facing areas – particularly where adequate social distancing is not possible.

At this stage, all health professionals must wear a disposable surgical mask in preference over reusable cloth masks.

Patients are only required to wear a face covering that covers both their nose and mouth.

Optometry Australia reports that the DHSS has clarified that “from the perspective of public health services, this guidance is ‘role agnostic’ and applied to all staff (clinical and non-clinical) as appropriate to their potential exposure and patient interactions. If it is deemed that these staff should be wearing a mask, under the guidance this is specified as a ‘level 1 or type 1 disposable surgical mask’”.

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