Do non-medical masks help stop spreading COVID-19? – Public Health Agency of Canada’s chief officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, now says that wearing a non-medical mask can help stop the spread of COVID-19 virus. The announcement is an about-face for the chief officer, who has until today, upheld the idea of non-health care professionals wearing masks – maintaining that masks should be reserved only for those who are sick, as well as for doctors and nurses working in hospitals. The policy change comes in response to ’emerging information from the science and medical community’ and wearing a mask can ‘help prevent pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic people from inadvertently infecting others with COVID-19’.
Canadians can use non-medical masks, along with social distancing measures to limit the transmission of the deadly virus – when going out for essential needs, such as to a pharmacy or for grocery shopping. “A non-medical mask can reduce the chance of your respiratory droplets coming into contact with others or landing on surfaces. The science is not certain but we we need to do everything that we can and it seems a sensible thing to do,” she said and then added that wearing a mask could give people a false sense of security that might encourage wearers to relax physical distancing. ‘Wearing a non-medical mask is an additional measure that you can take to protect others around you’, but warning that a non-medical mask doesn’t necessarily protect the person wearing it and she is still concerned about the potential negative aspects of wearing masks, as they do not protect the wearer’s eyes and could encourage people to touch them as they adjust the mask.
A recently published report from Singapore, concerning new research on patients who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship (close to 712 people aboard the ship were infected by the virus) was behind the policy change. She suggested that people could could use T-shirts or cotton sheets with elastic bands to create makeshift masks at home. If you choose to use a non-medical face mask, you must remember to wash your hands before putting it on and after taking it off. Face masks can become contaminated on the outside or when hands touch them. The agency recommends that people avoid touching their face masks while wearing them and to change their cloth masks as soon as they get damp or soiled. “It is important to understand that non-medical masks have limitations and need to be used safely. You must consistently and strictly adhere to good hygiene and public health measures, including frequent hand washing and physical (social) distancing.