Call me paranoid or silly, I’ll still wear a mask in the office

Key points

  • Masks are mandatory on public transport, in hospitals and care facilities, and on flights over NSW.
  • People over 65 or with some comorbidities are entitled to a fourth COVID-19 vaccine. 
  • People over 65 (50 for Indigenous Australians) may be eligible for antiviral treatment. Ring your GP if you test positive.
  • Masks are recommended in indoor settings where social distancing might not be possible.

On March 15, I sat in a small conference room for an entire day with five other people, one of whom tested positive to COVID-19 that night. I don’t blame them but I was angry at myself for dropping my guard. It was the last time I didn’t wear a mask at work.

Though the rules in place did not require me to isolate, they did “strongly recommended” it. I spent seven days locked up in one room at home (room service!) and was ultra-cautious leaving the house and tested every day. Negative, seven times.

Masked shoppers in Eastwood recently. Credit:Steven Siewert

Fortunate genes? No. Special magic batches of Pfizer? No. Secret mystical properties of my Humans of Eastwood mask? Probably not. Blind luck? Absolutely. But it was at that moment – my first prolonged exposure – that I decided I would make my own luck and wear a mask at work, in shops and venues, and on transport all the time. If I got COVID, I got it, but I would have done everything I could to prevent it.

It helps that I don’t care what people think. You can call me paranoid, neurotic, a bed-wetter or, as some of my polite colleagues do, cautious. You can also call me COVID-free.

I know I am not alone in doing my best. Former Australian Medical Association president Dr Kerryn Phelps told 2GB on Tuesday that a mask mandate indoors should be reintroduced. Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant implored people to wear masks indoors. I don’t need experts to ask me twice.

But making sensible choices about your health and that of others shouldn’t invite judgment.

It’s not that I think my time won’t come – I’ve been to a pub twice in the past month, once indoors. I’ve played indoor minigolf (mask on, definitely responsible for shooting 20 over par), and been tenpin bowling (mask on), been to the theatre (yep) and dinner in Chinatown (masked waiters). I used all but one Dine & Discover voucher. I’ll still drink my coffee takeaway, outside, thanks. I’ve avoided peak-hour public transport because of the state’s failure to police the mask mandate.

I also live in a house with a young person who, fair enough, had his fill of staying home and promptly caught the virus at a restaurant the exact day household contacts were let out to go to work. He was also prompt in telling us his throat felt “weird” – and was sent to isolation 36 hours before he tested positive. He makes better venue choices now.

Unless we choose to stay home, the risk will long be there. BA.4 and BA.5 appear to not care that you may have had an earlier strain of Omicron. Wearing a mask is such a simple way to improve your odds, so why wouldn’t you?

And if not for you, for those around you. For the elderly, the immunocompromised, for the year-12s, for the nurses, teachers, doctors, paramedics, and those who work in aged care in full PPE every single day. It’s hard not to feel exasperated when an unmasked person sits in the same train carriage as a nurse or doctor in scrubs.

I’m lucky I live on a train line where most people wear masks – though it would be better if we could have masked-only carriages or policing. I’m lucky I live in an area where I can choose venues where waiters and shop assistants wear masks and I can give ones that don’t a wide berth. And I am lucky I haven’t caught COVID yet.

A colleague recently asked me how long I intended to wear a mask. “As long as it takes,” I responded, “and I don’t care what people think.”

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