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

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Charges laid against Prince George man, 39, in drug trafficking probe

Tyler Aaron Gelowitz is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 18

B.C. doctors encourage patients to reach out for telephone or online care during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
How was your virtual care experience through the Omineca Medical Clinic?

The clinic has an online survey for patients in the region

Blackwater Gold Mine. (File photo)
Artemis Gold plans phased approach for Blackwater Project

Artemis Gold will directly employ up to 580 people during the initial construction period

John Rustad poses for a photograph infront of St. John Hospital in Vanderhoof after he made the announcement of investing in Hospitals in the area. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
Rustad announces St. John Hospital upgrade if BC Liberals are elected

The incumbent BC Liberals MLA for Nechako Lakes made the announcement on Tuesday, Oct. 13.

Lesley Chaisson, Manager, Vanderhoof Chamber of Commerce. (Submitted photo)
“We Are Open Campaign”: Vanderhoof Chamber promoting local businesses

Chamber embarks on multi-faceted approach to promote small business

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

Most Read