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The truth about non-medical face masks and covid-19

Mary ChapmanJune 11, 20207 min

It’s time to break out the face masks (if you haven’t already).

During the early days of Covid-19 health officials said there was no need for the general public to wear face masks to protect against the spread of coronavirus. But now, we know that wearing non-medical masks coupled with physical distancing can help stop the transmission of the virus.

On May 20, Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, said that “use of non-medical masks or face coverings is recommended as an added layer of protection when physical distancing is difficult to maintain.”

But what type of non-medical masks or face coverings work best? Here’s everything you need to know.

Why non-medical?

There have been reports of shortages of medical masks for health care workers. This is why the general public is not encouraged to use N95 masks or masks with respirators at this time. It is important that frontline staff have the protection they need.

The World Health Organization says cloth masks are not recommended for health-care workers “under any circumstances.

For the rest of us, non-medical masks are an extra precaution, on top of hand washing and physical distancing of two metres, to reduce the risk of transmitting respiratory droplets to others.

Face coverings are to stop pre-symptomatic individuals from infecting others. By wearing a mask you are protecting others from catching the virus that you may unknowingly have.

What kind of non-medical masks should you use?

There is a lot of misinformation about the type of face coverings that you should wear when you go out in public.

According to ER physician, Dr. Tasleem Nimjee, your face covering should be made from tightly woven fabric or paper. You can make these yourself or buy them.

If you have disposable paper masks, you can reuse them says Dr. Nimjee. The important thing is to put them away carefully so as not to contaminate other surfaces in your home. Coronavirus can’t survive beyond a couple of days on a surface so you are safe to assume the mask is ready to use.

If you have a cloth mask, you should put it in the washing machine between uses.

Do you want to buy or make your own cloth mask? Health Canada has both sew and no-sew instructions for masks.

Avoid common face masks mistakes

Just like handwashing, face coverings only work if done correctly.

For many of us, wearing a mask is a new sensation so it is important to understand what not to do in order for the mask to be effective.

Firstly, once you put on the mask, don’t touch it. Even though they may feel hot or uncomfortable, it’s important to not touch the mask. The exterior of your mask could have collected germs that will then end up on your hands or vice versa.

It’s just as important to put on the mask properly. Excessive touching and fiddling with it once it is on is also problematic. Instead, fit the mask covering your nose and mouth. Then, fasten the straps around the ears or head.

Same goes when you take off the mask. Don’t touch the front of the mask. Use your hands to remove it by the straps only.

Always wash your hands before putting a mask on after taking it off.

Remember, a face mask is an added measure that in combination with physical distancing, staying home as much as possible and proper handwashing all work together to stop the spread of this pandemic.

Are you making your own masks? Tell us in the comments.

Mary Chapman profile picture

Mary Chapman

Graduated from the University of Toronto with an Honors BA English Specialization and has completed several publishing courses at Ryerson University. She is a proofreader, editor, and content writer based in London, Ontario.

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