‘If you can wear a mask, do so’: Immunocompromised community calls for a return to face masks

People with compromised immune systems have pleaded with Australians to mask up, as NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard resists calls to reintroduce mask mandates amid a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Australia surpassed 10,000 COVID-19 deaths over the weekend, and Mr Hazzard on Tuesday ended a press conference by telling NSW residents to “wear a mask”, but did not enforce a mandate.

He recommended a third and fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for every eligible Australian on a day when 3,740 people were in hospital with COVID — compared to 2,689 a month ago.


Harry Illes-Mann lives with a compromised immune system and has battled serious liver disease since he was three years old, having had two liver transplants.
Speaking from hospital, he told SBS News that the relaxed restrictions made him and members of his community concerned for their safety.
“For a lot of people this has been a mass disabling event, but for our disability community, this has been a mass death event,” Mr Illes-Mann said.
“And I think that distinction is something that really needs some attention and consideration.

“I would very much encourage them [health authorities] to sit down with us [the immunocompromised community] and continue in a candid and maybe sometimes uncomfortable dialogue about what’s realistically necessary to ensure that our health system can continue to provide sustainable high-quality, high safety care to our vulnerable and marginalised communities.

Man laying down in hospital bed

Harry Illes-Mann in hospital following a liver transplant in 2021. It was the second transplant he’s had in two years.

“Not reintroducing a requirement to wear masks is a really big point of concern for myself but also for the advocacy community and for vulnerable people at the moment.

“I don’t know anyone among my colleagues working in the health space and other people working in the advocacy space that have any doubts as to the effectiveness or the usefulness of mask use in helping to manage ongoing case numbers and community transmission of COVID.”
Mr Hazzard, when outlining why he did not support a mask mandate in NSW, said: “I think we’re all fairly mature now in terms of our understanding of this pandemic.
“I would certainly not want to be seeing mandatory orders again in place for a whole range of reasons.
“We need to learn what measures can keep us safe in a once-in-100-year pandemic.”
Carly Findlay is an Australian writer who lives with ichthyosis — a genetic skin condition — and called on people’s sense of empathy to wear a mask.

“With mask and vaccine mandates removed, and no government guidance, COVID safe measures are left up to the individual,” Ms Findlay said.

Woman's facial profile

Melbourne disability campaigner Carly Findlay is calling for Australians to consider wearing a mask. Source: AAP / CARLY FINDLAY/PR IMAGE

“If you can wear a mask, do so, even when the government says you don’t have to.

“The act of mask-wearing shows love and respect for the community … Wearing a mask is proven to be one way to reduce the spread of COVID.”
Grace White is also immunocompromised, living with several chronic health conditions including endometriosis, chronic fatigue and seizures.
“Learning to live with a pandemic means adapting to life with a pandemic,” Ms White said.

“With rising case numbers and a refusal to mandate mask-wearing, I see a denial of this reality – not an acceptance.

“The privilege to deny has drastic consequences to the lives of immunocompromised people like myself. I do not have the luxury of denial, I am still focused on my survival.
“I definitely feel more at risk without mask mandates. I feel this way because I am more at risk without mask mandates.
“It is not a perceived threat, it is a real and active hazard that disproportionately affects certain groups. The NSW government has an opportunity to reduce a hazard and mitigate a public health and safety risk, and are opting not to.”

Current or former cancer patients are considered at high-risk from the effects of COVID-19, largely due to their compromised immune systems.

Cancer Australia CEO Professor Dorothy Keefe said vaccinations alone are not enough to end the spread of COVID-19 and that masks should also be worn.
“The evidence is clear, wearing masks have been shown to protect everyone including people who are immunocompromised,” Ms Keefe said.
“They reduce the risk of transmission by people with COVID-19 and they protect the people wearing them, so we would recommend wearing masks for all people.

“Immunocompromised people are at a slightly higher risk of infection and increased risk of more severe infection from COVID-19. While Australia has a very high vaccination rate, the coronavirus is still circulating at high levels in our community.”

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