With mask-wearing being encouraged in NSW in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19, I masked up and went to central Maitland to find out if other shoppers were heeding the advice.
It's strange walking down The Levee wearing a mask. It's something I never thought I'd be doing, but if wearing one is going to help stop the spread of this virus and keep our lives relatively normal - and our economy ticking over - then I'm all in.
I've got a surgical mask on and I'm seeing a lot of seniors wearing one too. I know handmade ones are taking off and I'm working on a story about that. I intend to get one - after all it will be better for the environment - but at this stage I don't feel I know enough about the discussions around layers and filters to make an informed decision.
I walk into Kmart and smile at the staff member on the door to acknowledge her - and then I realise she can't see me smiling. What a rookie mistake. So instead I say hello.
The staff are all wearing masks in line with a recent change in company policy. Kmart is urging its customers to mask up as well, but a lot of them aren't. When I mention this to a staff member I'm told she feels safer wearing a mask and ever more so when the customer is also wearing one.
I can relate to this. I never wore a mask during the first lockdown when the Hunter had a couple of hundred COVID-19 cases, and Maitland doesn't have any cases right now, but I do feel a bit more protected in a mask.
On to Woolworths now and I'm getting some funny looks from people on the footpath - and even those driving by - as I walk along in my mask. I can see why, it does look very out of place and it stands out.
Woolworths has urged its customers to wear masks from this week in a bid to limit the spread and protect staff in customer-service roles.
In Pender Place I'm greeted by a Woolworths staff member who is wearing a handmade mask - and surprisingly she can breathe very well through it. (That was something I had wondered about).
I notice most of the seniors in the store are wearing surgical masks, or ones you'd find at Bunnings. There are a few young people in masks but overall most customers aren't wearing them.
This is the first time I've shopped in a mask and I must say I found there were some unexpected benefits. Previously I've had other shoppers stand right next to me and reach over me to grab what they want while I'm taking items off the shelf.
I've also had people stand right behind me in the checkout line instead of staying on the green dots, which are spaced 1.5 metres apart. When I've politely reminded them about the social distancing rules I've often been met with anger.
There was none of that this time. In fact, any shopper considering it quickly reconsidered - and all because of the mask. It's a strong visual reminder of the reality we're in right now. And, on the flipside, every time I see someone in a mask it is a reminder to give them space.
The surgical mask felt light and comfortable and at times I even forgot it was there. I was curious about the handmade masks, so I asked those wearing them for feedback. Some said the fabric against their skin was a bit itchy and should be softer. Others said they used a piece of paper towel as a filter between the fabric layers - and they could breathe easily through that. One had made hers out of a scarf. Another bought it locally and found it was very comfortable. I've seen floral numbers, plain colours, and even one with a huge smile on it.
Outside Woolworths, at Fortune Shoe Repairs, handmade masks are flying off the shelves and they've put the call out for some sewing help.
It looks like masks are here to stay.