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

Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Park to partially reopen June 1

The Meadows in the Sky Parkway is expected to open

New Revelstoke staycation contest worth $1K launched

It’s to stoke locals for exploring their own backyard

Revelstoke sushi event fundraises almost $10K for local hospital

Kawakuba Japanese Restaurant raised almost $10,000 for Queen Victoria Hospital. The fundraiser… Continue reading

Revelstoke man with Alberta plates gets car keyed and aggressive note

Some people are finding hostile reception due to COVID-19 worries

Province seeks feedback on proposed all-season recreation resort near New Denver

Mountain lodge, chairlifts, hiking and biking trails all part of massive resort

B.C. legislature coming back June 22 as COVID-19 emergency hits record

Pandemic restrictions now longer than 2017 wildfire emergency

100 miles in 24 hours: a B.C. man’s mission to support the less fortunate

Merrit’s Darius Sam felt a responsibility to help his community after encounter with a starving woman

Central Okanagan schools ready to welcome students back

Students are set to go back to school next Monday, June 1

Houseboat company partly owned by Shuswap MLA withdraws controversial ad

The ad welcomed houseboaters from other provinces, contradicting anti COVID-19 measures.

Squabble between campers in North Shuswap leads to bear spraying

An argument over late night partying escalated into a fight which led to one person being sprayed

B.C.’s essential grocery, hardware store employees should get pandemic pay: retail group

Only B.C.’s social, health and corrections workers are eligible for top-ups

COLUMN: Canada needs to remember rural communities as thoughts turn to pandemic recovery

Small towns often rely on tourism, which has been decimated by COVID-19

Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto vying to be NHL hubs, but there’s a catch

The NHL unveiled a return-to-play plan that would feature 24 teams

B.C. sees 9 new COVID-19 cases, one death as officials watch for new cases amid Phase Two

Number of confirmed active cases is at 244, with 37 people in hospital

Most Read