Home-sewn masks help people contain their own droplets, but before going out, ensure a secure fit and don’t fiddle with it or touch your face until you return and remove it. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

GUEST COLUMN: Take care with non-medical cloth masks during COVID-19

If you wear one, don’t touch your face, Dr. Bonnie Henry advises

By Dr. Bonnie Henry

VICTORIA – From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have regularly seen people choose to wear a variety of masks, from medical masks to cloth face coverings, in grocery stores and parks, on buses and sidewalks.

As we all look to protect our loved ones and ourselves, many have asked if this is the right thing to do.

What we know about the virus that causes COVID-19 is that it spreads from droplets when people who are infected with the virus cough, sneeze or expel droplets when they are in close contact (within one to two metres) with others. This is why physical distancing is so important and why self-isolation is necessary when we are ill or have recently travelled. This is also why washing our hands, covering our mouths when we cough, and not touching our face or eyes are the best actions we, as individuals, can take during the pandemic.

Equally important is the need to reserve medical masks and N95 respirators for our health-care-workers. It is their job to care for us when we are ill and having the correct protective equipment to do that is crucial for them and for all of us.

So how do non-medical cloth masks fit in? The Canadian public health special advisory committee has closely reviewed evidence from around the world to answer this question. We now know that some people can spread the virus when they have very mild symptoms or may be unaware they are infected.

As Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has explained, a non-medical cloth mask or face covering can help you keep your own droplets out of the air and off surfaces. Choosing to wear such a face covering is like coughing or sneezing into a tissue or your sleeve.

A non-medical cloth mask or face covering, while helpful in containing your own droplets, will not protect you from COVID-19, nor is wearing one required of you if you can keep your safe distance from others. Moreover, using a cloth mask does not give you permission to disregard physical distancing and self-isolation orders. Indeed, these, along with respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene, remain the key proven measures to stop transmission.

Wearing a cloth mask or face covering is a matter of personal choice. It is another tool you can choose, particularly when maintaining that important safe distance can be a challenge.

Our most important advice remains the same: if you are sick, you should stay home. Wearing a cloth mask may contain your virus droplets, but it does not make it okay to go out. Maintain a safe distance from others when you are out, clean your hands regularly and avoid touching your face.

I applaud the creativity and ingenuity of many who have taken the time to make these cloth masks and it is encouraging to see the social connections that have been made by sharing patterns and creative ideas online.

RELATED: Non-medical masks can help, Dr. Theresa Tam says

RELATED: Prescriptions down to 30 days to prevent hoarding

If you choose to wear a non-medical cloth mask or face covering, I remind you of the importance of continuing to not touch your face when wearing it. This is often challenging especially for small children, and of course, be cautious when removing the cloth mask. Wash it regularly and do not share it with others.

We want everyone to stand united and stay strong. Every British Columbian has a part to play in flattening the curve. Let’s all be safe, be calm, be kind and do the right thing.

For the latest medical updates, including case counts, prevention, risks and testing, visit: http://www.bccdc.ca/

Or follow @CDCofBC on Twitter.

For the provincial health officer’s orders, notices and guidance, visit: www.gov.bc.ca/phoguidance

For non-health related information, including financial, child care and education supports, travel, transportation and essential service information, visit: www.gov.bc.ca/COVID19

Or call 1 888 COVID19 (1 888 268-4319) between 7:30 a.m. and 8 p.m., seven days a week.

Dr. Bonnie Henry is provincial health officer for British Columbia.

BC legislatureCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Comox Valley artist expands horizons through North Island College’s DIGITAL Design department

Submitted by NIC North Island College alumna Marlee Pestell is breaking into… Continue reading

85-year-old Comox sprinter competes in worldwide virtual track meet

Toronto was slated to be the host city for the 2020 World… Continue reading

City of Courtenay 2019 annual report available for review

The City of Courtenay has released the draft 2019 Annual Report highlighting… Continue reading

Scaled-down Comox Valley Exhibition set for Aug. 28-30

The Comox Valley Exhibition is a go for 2020. The annual event… Continue reading

Alberta to require masks at schools this fall, but still no mandate in B.C.

B.C. students are also set to return to classrooms in September

30% of British Columbians would ‘wait and see’ before taking COVID vaccine: poll

Some are concerned about side effects, while others don’t think the virus is a big deal

What exactly is ‘old growth’ B.C. forest, and how much is protected?

Forests minister Doug Donaldson doesn’t support ‘moratorium’

Don’t leave your hand sanitizer in the sun and other tips to stay COVID safe this summer

Being mindful of staying outside and keeping hand sanitizer, sunscreen out of the sun recommended

Canadians can travel to Hawaii in September; no quarantine with negative COVID test

Travellers will be required to pay for their own tests prior to arriving

Pay cuts, seating charts, COVID screening: How one B.C. venue is bringing back concerts

A growing number of bars and restaurants are welcoming back musicians under COVID-19 precautions

Crews work overnight to try to put out wildfire on Pender Island

Fire department and B.C. Wildfire Service crews extinguishing fire in ‘extremely difficult terrain’

Most Read