With public health officials at all levels now recommending that people use cloth masks in some situations, Toronto’s medical officer of health weighed in Wednesday with a series of detailed recommendations.
Dr. Eileen de Villa said that while regular cloth masks have not been proven to protect those who wear them from acquiring COVID-19, there is some evidence to suggest that they stop the wearer from spreading their respiratory droplets to others.
“It is important to note that while the available scientific evidence on this subject is limited, there appears to be some benefit to wearing a mask in that it protects others from your germs,” de Villa said.
She said that protecting others from your droplets is important, in light of evidence indicating that people can spread the virus without having symptoms or knowing that they are ill.
“This is why especially now as we approach reopening in our city, I strongly recommend that we use face masks to protect others when we are in settings where we cannot maintain physical distancing,” de Villa said. “This will help to reduce virus spread in our community.”
When should you wear a mask?
In general, masks should be worn in situations where it is difficult to maintain proper physical distance (at least six feet) from others.
According to de Villa, people should use masks in an elevator, when grocery shopping, using transit, or when riding in a taxi or a ride share service.
“If you are out walking on the street with plenty of space, you do not need to wear a mask or a face covering,” she said.
Runners also don’t need to wear face coverings, but should still maintain proper distance from others.
While masks are not mandatory in the city, De Villa urged people to plan ahead as much as possible so that they have one when necessary.
What kind of mask should you wear?
Medical or surgical masks are not being recommended for the public as they are being conserved for people who need them in health care settings.
Cloth masks are now available from many local retailers or online. Some people are also making their own. De Villa said purchased or home-made cloth masks are fine, as long as they meet public health guidelines.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, face masks or face coverings should: Allow for easy breathing; Fit securely to the head with ties or ear loops; Maintain their shape after washing and drying; Include at least two layers of tightly woven cotton or linen; Cover your nose and mouth without gaping.
How to wear your mask
“The first step is to wash your hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available,” de Villa said. “Keep your hair away from your face, and place the mask over your mouth and nose snugly to ensure there is no space. Your mask should fit comfortably and you should be able to breathe easily.”
She said it is important that people not leave masks hanging around their necks, scrunched up on their foreheads or dangling from their ears as this could increase the chances of becoming contaminated.
Also, masks should not be shared with others.
When/ how should I wash my mask?
“A used mask should be placed directly in the laundry or a lined bin to be cleaned,” de Villa said. “Cloth masks should be washed after each use, in the laundry with other items and using the hot cycle. Non-reusable masks should be discarded in a lined garbage bin after use.”
Who should NOT be wearing a mask?
There are a few people who should not be wearing masks. This includes children under the age of two, anyone who has a medical condition that makes wearing a mask difficult, and anyone who cannot remove the mask without assistance.
So is this the final word?
De Villa said the science about COVID-19 and the public health advice for combatting the virus continue to “evolve.” However at the present time, this is the best advice from public health officials about how to use masks to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the community.