Mask guidance changes as winter and the holiday season approaches

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As temperatures get colder and people move indoors, doctors are urging people to be vigilant about wearing masks inside — and the types of face coverings they’re wearing.

In a tweet posted to social media, Canada’s top doctor, Dr. Theresa Tam, is reminding people to take another look at mask guidance, including learning which masks are useful in different scenarios.

“[Did you know] there are different types of masks available for public use?” she tweeted. “Medical masks, non-medical masks and respirators can all be used in the community.”

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has recently modified its mask information webpage to include the updated advice.

“While non-medical masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, medical masks and respirators provide better protection,” the PHAC writes on its website.

Respirators were previously recommended only for healthcare workers coming into direct contact with infectious patients. In those cases, a fit test was required. But updated guidance on the website notes “a respirator worn in the community doesn’t need fit testing.”

Island pharmacist Lindsay Dixon says the new guidelines for medical masks are to ensure protection against aerosol transmission of COVID-19.

“Think about cigarette smoke or if you see someone outside and they’re breathing in it — there’s really cold air, you see that that steam come out of their mouth, and that’s what aerosols are,” she explained. “So it makes sense that if the virus is being transmitted via aerosol, that a higher quality mask like an N95 respirator is going to protect you a lot better than just a cloth mask.”

In Europe, some countries have ditched cloth masks in favour of surgical masks, but Dixon says those have flaws unless they fit well.

“You want to look at fit, filtration and function,” Dixon said. “So if the mask can be fitted to your face and form a seal as much as possible, then yes, it is going to work better. But that doesn’t have to be perfect.”

Meanwhile, the intensive care beds at Nanaimo’s Regional General Hospital are full of patients sick with COVID-19, according to Dr. David Forrest.

“It still breaks my heart to see people coming in who are unvaccinated, and believe there are dreadful side effects from the vaccine. And dying from respiratory failure. It’s unnecessary.”

The concern now, said Dr. Forrest, is the transmission of the Delta variant as people gather, indoors, for the holidays.

“It is still important that we are taking other measures to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus. One of the most important of these is wearing masks.”

READ MORE: B.C. extends indoor mask mandate indefinitely

With files from CBC News

Mary GriffinMary Griffin
Jasmine BalaJasmine Bala

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