Canada’s top doctor, health minister say they’ll wear masks if physical distancing isn’t possible

By | April 7, 2020

OTTAWA — Canada’s top health authorities say they will take their own advice and wear non-surgical face masks in public settings where maintaining a two-metre distance between people isn’t possible.

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said it’s one of many actions she would take to protect those in close proximity.

“Recognizing that actually the evidence is not quite there but it’s an added layer of prevention and protection against the spread to others.”

For the last several days Tam has reinforced advice by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control that donning a non-surgical mask in public could prevent the spread of COVID-19 among those who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. The recommendation states that in circumstances where abiding by physical distancing rules isn’t possible, evidence shows cloth masks are helpful — not necessarily for the individuals wearing a mask but for those surrounding them.

“It’s not necessarily there to protect myself,” said Tam. “I think I have to have that reality check and the fact that I still have to do the hand washing and still do the physical distancing as much as possible.”

Health Minister Patty Hajdu agreed.

“I wouldn’t hesitate to wear that, with the direction of Dr. Tam in terms of how to do it properly and being very aware that it would be a new experience for me,” she said. “I haven’t worn one yet and so I would probably feel like I would want to fiddle.”

Tam on Monday said everyday household items such as cotton shirts, sheets, or bandanas would suffice in making a homemade mask.

“We’re also going to tell people things that they shouldn’t use as well and we have our engineers looking at the evidence on those. But I think it’s simple things that are not complicated and preferably no sewing required,” said Tam on the government’s next steps.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his daily press briefing also tried to highlight the benefits of wearing a mask.

“If people want to wear a mask, that’s OK. It protects others more than it protects you because it prevents you from breathing or speaking moistly,” he said.

Health authorities continue to remind Canadians not to use surgical or N95 masks, which should be reserved solely for health-care workers.

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