As COVID-19 cases are rising daily across Ontario, wearing masks properly has become increasingly critical once again to reduce virus spread.

Provincial health officials have urged residents to don masks or face coverings to reduce viral spread since the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.

But as the Omicron variant rapidly spreads in the province, and across the globe, health officials are urging the public to remain vigilant about wearing masks, and wearing them correctly.

“Thinking about masks is, not only are they protecting you from aerosols that are generated outside but they're also protecting others from yourself by trapping those aerosols. So, you want to make sure that you're wearing a mask that fits well, has lots of layers, and goes over your nose and chin,” Dr. Shazeen Suleman, pediatrician at St. Michael’s Hospital and assistant professor at U of T’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine told CP24.

The province recommends that people wear non-medical masks or face coverings in public indoor spaces, and whenever physical distancing is a challenge. Health officials add that medical masks should be reserved for health-care workers and first responders.

Last week, however, the scientific director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table cautioned that wearing a single-layer cloth mask won’t protect people against the contagious Omicron variant.

“One thing which is really important to realize is if you have a single-layer cloth mask, ditch it full stop,” Dr. Peter Jüni said to CP24. “The minimum would be a double-layered cloth mask that has been washed before so that it is denser and filters better and really fits well. Even better than that, a medical mask below and the cloth mask on top and then it depends on your (exposure).”

Suleman agrees that the key for optimal protection is wearing masks with multiple layers.

One option Suleman recommends is wearing a blue, three-ply, non-medical mask and a cloth mask on top.

“Remember, it (non-medical mask) goes over your nose and your chin and you want to smooth the nose, not by pinching, but kind of by pushing at the nose and flattening out like that. The pinch actually is what will make a bit of an air leak,” Suleman said.

“If I layer this on top with my fabric mask and tighten it now I've got a better fitting mask and I've got a better seal, and actually putting the two together is what will increase the filtration availability of that mask,” she added.

Dr. Suleman

People can test if their masks are on properly by blowing and if they feel air around their eyes or below then they need to tighten the mask loops around their ears for a tighter fit.

Other mask options include KN95, N95 and FN95 masks which filter out 95 per cent of aerosols, Suleman says.

“And again, this one's going to go over the nose, over the chin, and this is now going to fit a lot more snug as you can see. If I tried to blow out, I don't feel anything coming from above here.”

Dr. Suleman

Some people who don’t like wearing masks have opted for plastic face shields but Suleman says those don’t offer the same protection because they don’t provide a seal on your face.

“The best fit mask is the one that's again making a seal on your face. So, anything that doesn't have that seal on your face is not going to give you the same protection for yourself but also not the same protection for others.”

Overall, Suleman encourages the public to wear any mask that they’re comfortable with to help protect themselves and others against the virus.

“The best mask is the one that you'll wear. So, if the mask that you're wearing is not ideal, but it's the only one you'll wear, I would ask you to wear that one,” she said.