The masks gifted to Tamworth Council are not accredited by Australian standards and are single-use disposable masks.
Tamworth council workers are being supplied with masks to wear in customer-facing roles however, it’s still their choice if they want to wear one or not.
Tamworth Regional Council received 60,000 masks and pairs of gloves from our sister city Qinglong County, China back in April.
General Manager Paul Bennett said the council waited until now to roll them out in case health professionals found themselves with a shortage.
Mr Bennett said the Council consulted with Hunter New England Health however, the masks do not have an accreditation certificate in Australia.
“The reason they weren’t taken up by Hunter New England Health is that our medical professionals actually use respirator type masks as opposed to these disposable cloth masks,” Mr Bennett said.
Mr Bennett said the masks are accredited by USA standards which he said are similar to Australian ones.
A spokesperson from Hunter New England Health said back in April they received many offers of mask donations however, they can only accept personal protective equipment from the national stockpile and it must be approved by the Clinical Excellence Commission.
This announcement comes after NSW Gladys Berejiklian foreshadowed harsher restrictions if she does not see more people wearing masks in public spaces.
A the beginning of August NSW Health began recommending the public wear after the second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks in South Sydney put the state on high alert for community transmission.
The NSW stockpile is sitting at a healthy 88 million surgical masks and recommends the community use disposable or reusable masks.
What are single-use masks doing to the environment?
The increased use of disposable masks due to the coronavirus pandemic has raised concerns for pollution as conservationists warn disposable masks will end up in the ocean.
Gunnedah Shire Council recently put out a tender for 300 sustainable and reusable masks to be made by someone in the local area in an effort to simultaneously provide a safe work environment for staff and minimise waste.
Tamworth Regional Council’s Sustainability Strategy states waste as one of the four key themes and says “Council is a leader in sustainable practices”.
General Manager Paul Bennett said the council’s crisis management team have been considering the options available.
According to Mr Bennett, the ‘jury is still out’ in relation to if reusable masks provide an adequate level of protection.
“We will definitely look at a sustainable option once we are satisfied that health professional’s advice shows that is an appropriate pathway to go down,” Mr Bennett said.
The NSW Health website says “The effectiveness of different types of cloth mask in blocking respiratory droplets varies, depending on the weave and the number of layers (at least 2–3 layers are needed). They are increasingly less effective as they become increasingly damp.”
Dr Kerry Chant, NSW Chief Health Officer said, “Physical distancing is still one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself.”
For more information can be found on the NSW Health website.