Homemade mask use keeps us all safer
Non-medical face coverings require proper fit, handling
By Shauna Krawchuk
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Monday, May 11, 2020
In the world of fashion, they say it's not what you wear, but how you wear it.
The same can be said about sporting a non-medical or homemade mask outside a health facility as part of your efforts to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
However, the Public Health Agency of Canada supports the use of homemade masks by members of the public when physical distancing isn't possible.
These masks are not to protect the wearer. Rather, they may protect those around you. A mask can reduce the chance that others are coming into contact with your respiratory droplets, in the same way as practising cough etiquette by covering your mouth and nose with a tissue, or coughing or sneezing into your sleeve.
As we begin a staged approach to ease restrictions and safely reopen the economy, you may be considering the use of a mask for short periods of time, especially where you anticipate that physical distancing is not possible. COVID-19 (coronavirus) is spread by droplets that can spray into the air when those who are infected talk, cough and sneeze. One way you can protect those around you is by wearing a mask. If everyone in a room is wearing a mask, all are safer.
First and foremost, it's important to remember wearing a mask is only helpful if you continue to follow current public health advice. Washing your hands often and following social (physical) distancing requirements remain the best approach to reduce your chance of being exposed to the virus.
A soiled mask on your face may add opportunities to spread the virus and other germs if you touch the mask and then touch other objects, such as items at the grocery store. That's why it's important to use one carefully.
If you choose to wear a homemade or non-medical mask, remember to:
- Always put it on with clean hands, leave it on until you are done using it, or it becomes soiled, and remove it carefully to avoid getting sick
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before you put it on and after you take it off, as this is when your hands will come in contact with your own face and potentially transfer the germs/virus to you
- Make sure your mask fits close to your face (doesn't gape)
- Not share your mask with others
- Avoid touching your mask while wearing it, change your mask as soon as it is damp or soiled
- Place the mask directly into a bag or into the washing machine, launder your mask on a hot cycle and dry it thoroughly
Please remember that medical-grade masks, including surgical masks, medical procedure face masks and respirators (N95 and similar), are urgently required by health-care workers and others providing direct care to COVID-19 positive and suspect patients. Use in other settings should be minimized to those who require this level of protection.
Wearing a mask in public protects those around you. It does not reduce your chances of getting sick. The benefit of wearing a mask is that we all do it together: if everyone around you is wearing a mask then we are all safer. That said, if you are at greater risk of complications from COVID-19, your best choice is still to remain home and avoid close interaction with others.
For more information, see gov.mb.ca/covid19/prepareandprevent.
If you want to make your own mask, see canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/prevention-risks/about-non-medical-masks-face-coverings.html
Shauna Krawchuk is public health nurse, health communications with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's Population & Public Health department. This column was published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Monday, May 11, 2020.