As the country gradually emerges from locking, Canadians may wonder how and when to wear face masks.
Is a face mask really needed in public? How protective are they? How do home masks compare with medical masks?
The Globe asks experts to consider:
Understand public health guidelines
There is debate about whether wearing face masks in public can reduce the spread of the new corona virus, and different health organizations are encouraging their use. For example, U.S. Disease Control and Prevention Center recommend that people wear cloth face coverings in public places in places where it is difficult to distance physical distances, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, but World Health Organization (WHO) not.
In Canada, wearing non-medical masks and face masks in public is optional, according to Canadian Public Health Agency (PHAC). However, it is said to mask and cover this face needed when people travel by air. This also encourages them to travel by ferry and other modes of sea transportation, and strongly recommends them to train, bus and other land transportation modes.
Mark Loeb, a doctor of infectious diseases and a professor of pathology and molecular medicine at McMaster University, said the guidelines might differ at least in part because of uncertain evidence about how effective masks are in reducing transmission of the virus in the general population.
However, he explained, the situation was also important. You are safe if you walk outside and do not have close contact with others, he said. “But if you are in a closed environment, such as on a train or in an airplane, and you are in a smaller room that is clearly not ventilated as well, your risk of transmission is generally only higher.”
Loeb added that wearing a mask might be more valuable in areas with a high prevalence of infection, and situations where physical distance cannot be maintained.
The messages from health organizations are consistent on several points. Medical masks, including surgical masks and N95 respirator masks, must be provided for health workers and those who care for infected people. And masks alone are not enough to protect from infection.
Weigh the benefits
Perhaps the strongest benefit of wearing a mask in a community is when you are infected but don’t have enough symptoms to realize it and stay at home, said Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta.
Masks can reduce the spread of large droplets from your nose and mouth, acting like coughing and sneezing, he said.
“So you don’t need to use it to protect you,” Dr. Saxinger. “You sort of wear it protect others. And if everyone does that, theoretically, there must be community-based benefits for the use of masks. “
While the wearer might also get protection, it’s not well studied, he said.
It is important to note that wearing a mask can give people a false sense of security, he added. For example, with a mask, you might feel more confident and behave in ways that can put you at higher risk, such as being closer to people than you should be.
Choose the right mask
While the N95 respirator mask can filter out 95 percent of small particles, filtering of medical masks can vary greatly, maintaining around 20 percent to 90 percent of small particles, said Dr. Loeb
Most of the disposable masks that you usually see are medical masks, said Dr. Saxinger, noting one of the main problems with them is that world producers are struggling to make enough. (“And to be honest, the number of disposable masks that the world will actually go through is also shocking, and we have to think about it,” he said.)
While fabric masks are suggested as an alternative, there is very little data on its efficacy, which can vary depending on the type and fabric of the fabric, said Dr. Saxinger. He noted one study among health workers found that those who wore cloth masks during the flu season had a higher infection rate, compared to those who wore disposable medical masks.
That shows that cloth masks may not be as good as protecting wearers like medical masks, he said, but it is not known whether cloth masks are worse than nothing.
“There is a little question mark about whether it might be a problem to have a moist cloth near your face,” he said, noting there are some suggestions that holding a wet mask after removing it can increase a person’s risk of infection.
PHAC offer online instruction for how to make your own cloth mask at home, including options that don’t need to be sewn. It said the mask must be made of at least two layers of tightly woven fabric, such as cotton or linen, fit securely, and completely cover the nose and mouth without gaping.
Use your mask properly
Before wearing a mask, make sure it’s clean and dry, says PHAC. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer before touching it.
Use a mask that you can take off without pulling it over your face or touching the front, said Dr. Saxinger.
Taking a break from it by pulling it on your chin or climbing on your forehead or dangling in one ear is also a “bad idea,” he said. The same is true for wearing it only above your mouth, with your nose open. “You basically … have erased the reason for using it,” he said.
After removing it, he recommends putting it in a plastic bag until you can put it directly in the laundry. Wash normally with soap and water is fine, he said.
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