A couple wearing a protective masks ride a near empty subway train in Montreal, on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. Proper physical distancing in public transportation is a concern as governments prepare to start easing restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

A couple wearing a protective masks ride a near empty subway train in Montreal, on Wednesday, April 22, 2020. Proper physical distancing in public transportation is a concern as governments prepare to start easing restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Canada’s top doctors defend mask advice as country tops 50,000 COVID-19 cases

Non-medical masks can prevent spread of virus when physical distancing is not possible, officials say

Canada’s chief medical officers defended their agency’s record on non-medical masks as the country’s COVID-19 cases topped 50,000.

Dr. Theresa Tam endorsed the optional wearing of non-medical masks to stop the virus’s spread on April 6, after questions began to pour in about their usefulness in slowing the spread of COVID-19. As of Wednesday (April 29) morning, there were 51,220 confirmed cases and 2,984 deaths in Canada.

READ MORE: Wearing non-medical masks can stop spread of COVID-19 before symptoms start: Tam

Speaking Wednesday, Tam said officials were continually re-evaluating data on masks and that a key concern was the availability of medical ones for health-care workers.

“We do want to make sure medical masks are reserved for our health-care workers,” Tam said.

“We also want to be absolutely certain that the public knows that all the other measures we recommended still need to be observed.”

Those measures include increased hand-washing, staying home when sick and maintaining a two-metre physical distance from non-household members.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr. Howard Njoo said the initial messaging about face masks was based on influenza research.

“With this virus we’re learning it’s not exactly like influenza. It’s an infection and a virus that has its own unique qualities and aspects,” Njoo said.

Tam said officials changed their messaging when more data about pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic cases emerged.

“At that point in time we felt that the public can consider wearing a homemade mask or facial covering when they can’t maintain that physical distancing.”

Federal officials still recommend masks to protect others by stopping droplets flying from the wearer’s mouth and nose, not to protect the person donning the mask.

South of the border, the U.S. Centre for Disease Control told Americans to wear masks in public on April 3, three days before Canadian health officials said they could be an additional measure to slow the virus’s spread.

In Canada, masks have been mandatory for domestic flights since April 20. In B.C., the CDC has said “wearing a cloth mask is a matter of personal choice.” The agency recommends sick people “should” wear masks and that they are an “appropriate part of infection prevention and control” if you have COVID-19 symptoms or are caring for a person with symptoms.


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