Health officials in Canada are fully recommending the use of non-medical face masks or coverings as parts of the country, including British Columbia, begin to reopen economies.
During a press conference from health officials in Ottawa, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, reiterated the recommendation as an additional measure to keep Canadians safe as more people return to public spaces.
“Where COVID-19 related activity is happening, the use of non-medical masks or face coverings is recommended, as an added layer of protection when physical distancing is difficult to maintain,” said Dr. Tam.
Despite having previously suggested Canadians should consider wearing non-medical masks, her advice on Wednesday came as part of a slightly stronger statement. It marks a complete turnaround from her advice seven weeks ago that people who are not sick should not be wearing a face mask at all.
Dr. Tam said initially it was believed the novel coronavirus was only spreading from people showing symptoms. That understanding has changed, as it is now known people can transmit the virus days before symptoms show up. Some patients may never show symptoms at all and can still spread the virus to others.
“It is when we got more evidence about asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals, although, we don’t fully understand their role in transmission, it is an added layer of protection even for people who don’t have symptoms to prevent transmission to others,” said Dr. Tam.
The shift in advice came Wednesday with the sight of more MPs and cabinet ministers arriving in masks on Parliament Hill for the weekly in-person COVID-19 committee sitting. That included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he will be wearing a face mask whenever he feels he can’t stay two metres away from others outside his home.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Conservative MP Garnett Genuis were also in face masks on Parliament Hill.
Currently in Canada, wearing a mask is only being recommended by health officials, however, other countries such as Spain are requiring masks for anyone in public. Dr. Tam also pointed out that mandatory uses of masks across Canada doesn’t make sense due to the varying degrees of the virus, but added that local health officials may choose to make the recommendation for face masks mandatory in their jurisdictions.
Canada’s top doctor also continues to stress that non-medical masks are not a replacement for other measures.
“For the spring and summer months, strict adherence to the public health basics of physical distancing, hand washing, and cough etiquette must continue as the bare minimum,” said Dr. Tam.
The chief medical officer also outlined that non-medical masks will not prevent you from contracting the virus, but helps protect “other people from your droplets.”
Dr. Tam pointed out, “if two people are wearing masks, I’m protecting you, and you’re protecting me.”
Here in British Columbia, phase two of the COVID-19 Restart Plan kicked off on May 19, enabling multiple facets of the economy to start reopening.