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Home » Your Health » Homemade mask use keeps us…

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.

Mask Etiquette

When is it appropriate to wear a non-medical, or cloth, mask?

  • In public settings when staying two metres (six feet) away from others may be challenging
  • When using public transportation or riding in vehicles with others
  • When attending medical appointments (doctor's office, massage therapist)
  • When receiving personal care services where physical distancing is not possible (haircut, pedicure)

NOTE: Homemade cloth masks do not replace personal protective equipment where required in a health-care setting. Any staff person in a health-care facility who is not required to use approved personal protective equipment may wear a non-medical mask if they choose to.

How do I put on a homemade (non-medical) mask or face covering?

Follow these five steps to safely put on a mask or face covering:

  • Ensure the face covering is clean and dry and has not been used by others.
  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before touching the mask.
  • If warm water and soap are not available, use hand sanitizer with a minimum 60 per cent alcohol base.
  • Ensure your hair is away from your face.
  • Place the face covering over your nose and mouth and secure to your head or ears with its ties or elastics
  • Adjust if needed to ensure nose and mouth are fully covered.
  • The mask should fit snugly to the cheeks and there should not be any gaps.
  • Clean your hands again.

What should I be aware of when wearing a mask?

  • Leave it in place on your face (without putting it up on your hair or down around your chin) the entire time you need to have it on. Not having it placed properly puts you at risk of coming in contact with the outside surface that may transfers germs/virus to you.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • If you move or remove your mask for any reason, it's time to take it off and throw it out or store it in a plastic bag until you can launder it.
  • As soon as your face covering becomes damp or dirty, you need to remove your mask and wash it if it's reusable, or throw it away if it is disposable.

How do I take off my homemade (non-medical mask) or face covering?

Follow these steps to safely put on a mask or face covering:

  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer with a minimum 60 per cent alcohol base.
  • Remove the face covering by untying it or removing the loops from your ears
  • Avoid touching the front of the mask, which may have the virus/germs on it and transfer them to you
  • Dispose of or launder the mask immediately
  • If you are not at home, place the mask in a plastic bag that can be sealed until you can place it in the wash
  • If you plan to reuse the mask, wash it with hot, soapy water before wearing it again
  • Do not share masks between family members or others
  • If throwing it out, place it into a lined garbage bin or plastic bag.
  • After removing and disposing of or storing the face covering, wash your hands.

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