Canada's mask recommendation: What you need to know about the use of non-medical masks

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, and Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer, are making a “recommendation” that Canadians wear a non-medical mask when they cannot maintain a two-metre physical distance.

Dr. Tam said this recommendation is coming after increasing questions related to asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread continue to rise and communities are looking for added measures to prevent transmission to others.

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“Although we don’t fully understand their role in transmission, it is an added layer of protection,” Dr. Tam said.

She added it is still only a recommendation because each region in Canada needs to be able to do a risk assessment on community transmission in their local area.

“The concept is one, I think, of reciprocal protection,” Dr. Tam said. “Thinking of it as I am protecting you and you are protecting me.”

Dr. Njoo said it is also important to look at the unintended consequences. Everyone in Canada must follow the other important public health measures, like hand washing, physical distancing and stay home if at all symptomatic, and a mask is not a replacement for those measures.

When asked if this should have been implemented sooner in Canada, Dr. Tam said the decision was made to have people stay as home as much as possible, which “decelerated that epidemic wave.”

She said the “tried and true” public health measures like case identification, contact tracing, physical distancing, frequent hand washing and isolating are still important but the wearing non-medical masks is “an added layer on top of that,” particularly as more people begin to go outside.

Dr. Tam said washing hands before and after taking the mask on and off is very important. No one else should be using your mask and if people are walking between stores, maybe adjusting the elastic on the mask, do not touch your face.

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