Non-surgical masks may help prevent spread of COVID-19, says Manitoba’s top doctor

By | April 6, 2020

Manitobans can help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 by wearing non-medical masks, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin says.

While symptomatic people account for most of the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, there is growing evidence of asymptomatic spread as well, and wearing a covering can help prevent that, Roussin said at a news conference Monday morning.

“If you choose to wear a non-medical mask, if you go out in the public, you may be protecting others,” he said.

However, that still isn’t the best way to protect others, Roussin said.

There have been 204 cases in the province between March 10 and April 6, public health officials say. (Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

“I don’t want [masks] to be a distraction. The real message is to stay home.”

Previously, Roussin said masks aren’t necessary to protect people from COVID-19 and that they should be practising physical distancing and hand hygiene.

WATCH | Dr. Roussin on using face masks: 

Non-surgical masks can help stem the spread of COVID-19, says Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer. 1:40

But messages from public health officials are changing as new scientific evidence is introduced, he said.

“Our goal is to provide Manitobans with the best possible advice. Our goal isn’t to remain consistent, but respond to the information as it comes,” he said.

People who do wear masks should clean them frequently, be careful not to touch their mouth, nose or eyes with them and clean their hands often, he said. They should also maintain their physical distancing and stay home as much as possible.

Roussin’s comments come after a similar message from the nation’s top doctor.

WATCH | Dr. Theresa Tam on the use of non-surgical face masks:

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr Theresa Tam spoke with reporters on Parliament Hill, Monday. 2:22

Dr. Theresa Tam, the federal chief public health officer, said Monday that Canadians can use non-medical masks together with social distancing measures to limit the transmission of the deadly virus when out doing only essential tasks, like grocery shopping or going to the pharmacy.

“Wearing a non-medical mask is an additional measure that you can take to protect others around you,” Tam said — while warning that a non-medical mask doesn’t necessarily protect the person wearing it.

“A non-medical mask can reduce the chance of your respiratory droplets coming into contact with others or landing on surfaces.”

WATCH | What to know before you put on a non-surgical mask:

Dr. Samir Gupta provides crucial information about wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic and what to think about before putting one on. 2:30

Roussin also announced Monday that Manitoba has one new case of COVID-19, bringing the number of lab-confirmed and probable positive cases to 204. The number of active cases, meaning people who are still experiencing symptoms of the virus and have not recovered, is 185.

There are still 11 people in hospital and seven in intensive care, he said.

Although only one new case was announced Monday, Roussin wasn’t optimistic about the future.

“Don’t expect many days like this,” he said.

Shared Health chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa said there are still 14 heath-care workers infected with the virus.

As of April 4, 12,514 COVID-19 tests had been performed in Manitoba. (Jacques Marcoux/CBC)

The Cadham Provincial Lab completed 458 tests on Sunday; as of Monday, a total of 13,476 tests have been performed.

The province is looking at expanding testing criteria, Roussin said, but wants to ensure that’s sustainable and that high-risk people remain a priority.

‘Stay home’

Roussin reiterated people should stay home and not go out in public, even to places of worship, especially given upcoming religious holidays, including Passover, Easter and Ramadan.

“We know from other jurisdictions that a lot of transmission has occurred at faith-based gatherings,” he said.

Few people are venturing out on Winnipeg streets due to physical distancing measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

“You’re not only putting yourself at risk but all Manitobans at risk when you attend gatherings like this.”

With the weather improving, Roussin also discouraged people in the province from going to their cabins because they could overwhelm smaller health-care centres if they become sick.

WATCH | Full news conference on COVID-19 | April 6, 2020:

Provincial officials give update on COVID-19 outbreak: Monday, April 6, 2020. 58:21

He discouraged people from going to busy parks where staying two metres apart is difficult.

“If you did want to take in a park, you’ve got to be absolutely sure you can maintain that physical distancing. If you’re not, you’ve got to turn around and find someplace else,” Roussin said.

More helping out

As the number of patients in the province rises, so too are the numbers of people working to battle the virus.

Siragusa annouced 209 retired physicians have signed up to help screen patients for COVID-19.

So far, the occupancy rate of intensive care units in Manitoba is about 70 per cent and there are enough nurses to staff them, she said.

Siragusa will ensure all health-care workers have personal protective equipment, including masks, surgical gowns and gloves, by April 13, she said.

The province also put out a call for proposals Friday for non-hospital facilities where less serious COVID-19 patients can isolate in Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson.

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