There has been some conflicting information on the use of masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in recent weeks. To help, today, we’re sharing updated information from the Government of Canada and the BC Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC).  

While we wrote the article on April 27, 2020, content was updated on May 21st, 2020 and again on May 25th, 2020 to reflect recent changes made by the Government of Canada. It is possible that this content will continue to change. Find the most up to date info on the Government of Canada website.  

The government of Canada is now recommending that people wear non-medical masks or facial coverings in the community when it’s not possible to consistently maintain a 2-metre distance from others, particularly in crowded public settings. Here’s what you need to know about wearing a non-medical mask to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

First, what kind of masks are we talking about?  

All medical grade masks should be reserved for healthcare workers.  

This means that the masks that we’re talking about here are non-medical masks. These can often be made out of fabric and are sometimes homemade. 

What do non-medical masks do?  

According to the Government of Canada, wearing non-medical masks has not been proven to protect the person wearing them from contracting COVID-19. Instead, they can help, as an additional measure, to protect people around the mask wearer by acting as a physical barrier to help stop the spread of respiratory droplets coming from the mask-wearer, especially in the event of a cough or sneeze.  

Because of this, masks can help to reduce pre-symptomatic (being contagious before you show symptoms) and asymptomatic (having the virus without symptoms) transmission of COVID-19. It can also help if you’re showing symptoms and want to protect those you live with (but even with a mask, you should not be leaving the house if you’re sick). 

It’s important that you know that this is just one part of protecting those around you (and that it doesn’t necessarily protect you from contracting COVID-19). Mask wearing must be combined with other preventative measures to be effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

What masks don’t replace: 

Non-medical masks do not make it okay to leave the house if you’re sick.  

Additionally, they do not replace: 

  • Physical distancing
  • Staying home as much as possible 
  • Practicing good hand hygiene 
  • Coughing and sneezing into an elbow or tissue 
  • Avoiding touching your face with unwashed hands 

Limitations: 

It’s important that you’re aware that homemade masks are not medical devices. Because of this, they are unregulated and their use poses a number of limitations, including:

  • They have not been tested to recognized standards
  • The fabrics are not the same as the material used in surgical masks or respirators
  • The edges are not designed to form a seal around the mouth and nose
  • They may not provide complete protection against virus-sized particles
  • They can be difficult to breathe through 

When is wearing a non-medical mask recommended?

The Government of Canada recommends that you wear a non-medical mask/facial covering in the community for periods of time when it is not possible to consistently maintain a two-metre physical distance from others.

This is particularly important in crowded public settings such as:

  • stores
  • shopping areas
  • public transportation

How to safely put on a non-medical mask or face covering:

  1. Ensure the face mask or face covering is clean and dry
  2. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds and dry thoroughly before touching the mask
    • If the above isn’t available to you, use hand sanitizer with a minimum 60% alcohol base
    • Check out our blog post on how to know if a hand sanitizer is safe for more information
  3. Ensure your hair is away from your face
  4. Place the face covering over your nose and mouth and secure to your head or ears with its ties and elastics
    • Adjust if needed to ensure both your nose and mouth are fully covered
    • The mask should fit snugly to your cheeks, without any gaps
  5. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds and dry thoroughly

For more information about taking off and disposing and cleaning used masks, check out our blog post guide. You can also find information about how to make your own non-medical mask on the Government of Canada website.

We hope this information is helpful to you, and that it helps you understand the benefits and limits of non-medical masks. 

Did you like this? You might like these posts too!    

 Look through all of our COVID-19 related information on our website.

Where do we fit in? Yes, we are a provincial regulator. We are responsible for some very specific transactions in BC. We aren’t experts on COVID-19. We won’t – and shouldn’t – ever give medical or legal advice. But we are in a unique circumstance right now and we want to help people navigate the current reality. We don’t have all the answers, but we will do our best to share information from reliable sources, put it in ways that are easy to digest and understand, provide referrals and help you navigate this situation.    
 
About Consumer Protection BC: We are responsible for regulating specific industries and certain consumer transactions in British Columbia. If your concern is captured under the laws we enforce, we will use the tools at our disposal to assist you. If we can’t help you directly, we will be happy to provide you with as much information as possible. Depending on your concern, another organization may be the ones to speak to; other times, court or legal assistance may be the best option. Explore our website at www.consumerprotectionbc.ca.