As face masks become mandatory in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire from midnight Wednesday, there’s a certain question lingering in the minds of every NSW resident glued to the news: should we be wearing face masks as well?

Although infection numbers are nothing like what we’re seeing in Victoria, thankfully, NSW is on the verge of a second wave. Clusters have been identified in the Sydney suburbs of Campbelltown, Casula, Harris Park and Wetherill Park, as well as the regional towns of Bateman’s Bay and Picton.

With this in mind, should all NSW folk start strapping on masks when out in public?

“The short answer is yes,” Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, Professor of Epidemiology of Hospital Infection and Infectious Diseases Control at the University of New South Wales, told PEDESTRIAN.TV.

“We, in NSW, are at a level where [the numbers] are going to start to accelerate. Human resources are such that it may not be able to keep up with the contact tracing that’s needed. Every case has about 10 cases. And that’s a lot of work.”

Compounding the situation is that clusters aren’t confined to geographical areas.

“The infection escapes with club members and has gone to all sorts of different suburbs,” McLaws said.

“You could be in a suburb where it doesn’t look like a hotspot, but people could have gone to Casula or any other venue.”

We’ve all seen this gross image floating around, right?

What’s the official government advice?

The NSW Government advises people to wear masks where social distancing may not be possible, such as when using public transport. While there are calls for this to be mandatory, the government has so far resisted going that far.

As of Friday, health care workers must wear masks if they are within 1.5 meters of a patient, with NSW Health officially raising the risk level to ‘amber’. Patients are also required to wear a mask where possible.

However, face masks are still not recommended for the general population. Unlike residents in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire, NSW residents will not receive a fine for refusing to mask up.

(Obviously if you’ve come into contact with a COVID-19 case, then you should not only be isolating but masking up if you have to be in the same room as someone else.)

And what do the experts say?

In short: wear a damn mask.

“If everybody [in NSW] wore one, it would slow down the spread and even get it to a halt,” McLaws said.

“If more than 50% of the population wears one, it does have a very significant impact on slowing the spread down.”

Once a person is infected, you have about three days before they become infectious and start spreading the coronavirus, McLaws said.  That’s a very small window of time for the person who infected you to get tested, receive the test, and for you to be contacted and start isolating. It’s why social distancing is still so important: you don’t know who’s infected and doesn’t yet know, ya know?

McLaws isn’t the only one here. Mask-wearing is the officially advice of the World Health Organisation, and also the advice of most (if not all) experts worldwide.

More than 100 prominent academics have signed a letter urging governments to make masks mandatory.

“We have an urgent message about some critical new scientific research,” the letter says, referring to research published in July.

“It strongly suggests that requiring fabric mask use in public places could be amongst the most powerful tools to stop the community spread of COVID-19.”

As Bill Nye puts it: “The reason we want you to wear a mask is to protect you, sure, but the main reason we want you to wear a mask is to protect ME, from YOU, and to prevent the particles in YOUR respiratory system from getting into MY respiratory system.”

Here’s a handy guide on where to buy reusable masks online, and a easy 3-minute explainer on all things face masks. Time to mask on, mates.

Image: Getty Images / Anadolu Agency