A medical worker wearing a single protective glove and a face mask walks past a line of workers and visitors waiting to be tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, at the main entrance to the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Monday, March 23, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

B.C. health officer says homemade masks may prevent spread of COVID-19 to others

Practising physical distancing, frequent hand washing and resisting touching your face are proven methods

B.C.’s provincial health officer says wearing homemade or non-medical masks may prevent people from spreading droplets that cause COVID-19, but wearing a mask likely does little to protect a person from the virus.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said Wednesday the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is moving towards supporting more extensive use of masks by people during the pandemic.

“This is something we’ve been considering as well, knowing what’s been going on around the world,” she said at a news conference.

A study by researchers in Singapore estimates that about 10 per cent of new infections may be sparked by people who carry the virus but have not yet suffered its flu-like symptoms. That then prompted American health officials to change how it defined the risk of infection.

Canadian public health officials, including Henry, have previously said people who are feeling well do not need to wear masks in public.

Henry said practising physical distancing, frequent hand washing and resisting touching your face are the proven methods to prevent transmission of the novel coronavirus.

“If you are going to wear them, it can help reduce droplets you shed into the environment and if somebody is infected and has mild symptoms or is early on in the illness it can prevent you from putting those droplets out,” she said. “That’s probably OK.”

But Henry said the homemade or non-medical masks are not proven to provide the wearer “with any protection.”

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She said the supply of approved medical masks and respirators is tenuous and must be reserved for medical workers, COVID-19 patients and others working in health care.

Henry warned that at-home COVID-19 testing kits have not been proven to work.

“There’s no at-home testing kits that have been validated that I am aware of,” she said. “The problem is they have false-positive and false-negative tests out there now. There’s potentially a role for these at some point. There’s none right now that are good enough to be used in our communities.”

Henry said the province is holding its own in the fight against COVID-19, but there are several more critical weeks to go before restrictions can be lifted. She said any reductions in restrictions will have to be done in a way that prevents the further spread of the novel coronavirus.

She said Tuesday B.C.’s ban on gatherings of over 50 people and closures of restaurants and bars could be in place until summer. She also said a second wave on the virus could arrive in the fall.

Henry said she expects to publicly introduce an ethical framework in the coming days to guide doctors and others who may have to make life-and-death decisions about patients during the pandemic.

“Part of that is the structure for how those decisions will be made so that no single individual clinician or health-care worker will have to make those entirely terrible decisions on their own,” she said. “It will be done within a framework that respects the value of every individual life.”

Coast Mountain Bus Company, which operates over 96 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s bus service, said Wednesday that two of its employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

It said one person works in the Burnaby transit centre and a Port Coquitlam bus operator has disclosed that they tested positive.

The company said all workplaces the employees came into contact with have been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

— with files from The Associated Press

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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