NSW Health has not changed its advice on masks despite a mandate in Victoria and a plea from the retail workers union for Sydney residents to wear face coverings in regional areas including Newcastle.
The Victorian Government announced on Thursday that face masks would be mandatory outside of the home for all Victorians from Sunday. It followed a decision to make face masks compulsory in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire earlier this month.
Last Friday, NSW Health also directed health workers in public hospitals to wear a surgical mask within 1.5 metres of patients.
But outside of hospitals, their use remains voluntary in this state. NSW Health said it was following Australian Health Protection Principal Committee advice on masks and would act accordingly.
NSW Chief Medical Officer Kerry Chant has previously encouraged mask use in situations where social distancing of 1.5 metres is not possible.
Hunter New England health public health controller Dr David Durrheim said masks were a "very useful additional measure" and that he would definitely wear a mask if he had to travel to Sydney, particularly in areas such as shopping centres and public transport.
But Dr Durrheim said masks did not replace the tools of social distancing and washing hands.
"We need to be very careful," he said. "Wearing a mask doesn't mean you can cuddle up close to others."
He said it was also important to handle masks appropriately - including not touching the front of the face covering when taking it off.
The retail workers union, SDA NSW, has called for Sydney people to wear masks when entering shops in the regional community to "protect not just retail workers, but our wider community".
SDA Newcastle branch secretary Barbara Nebart said while the Hunter had been lucky so far with a low number of cases, the situation in Port Stephens had been caused by someone travelling from Sydney.
"We want to try and protect as much as possible," she said. "If we end up with a cohort of cases in a supermarket and that supermarket has to close, people won't be able to buy essential items."
The call comes on the back of SDA polling conducted by Essential, which revealed 23 per cent of people in NSW believe being forced to wear a mask is an infringement on their personal freedom.
"Those people should have a very good look at themselves," Ms Nebart said. "It's not a hard thing to do, unless you have a genuine medical exemption.
"Let's all try and protect each other."