Home-sewn masks help people contain their own droplets, but before going out, ensure a secure fit and don’t fiddle with it or touch your face until you return and remove it. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

Home-sewn masks help people contain their own droplets, but before going out, ensure a secure fit and don’t fiddle with it or touch your face until you return and remove it. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

GUEST COLUMN: Take care with non-medical cloth masks during COVID-19

If you wear one, don’t touch your face, Dr. Bonnie Henry advises

By Dr. Bonnie Henry

VICTORIA – From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have regularly seen people choose to wear a variety of masks, from medical masks to cloth face coverings, in grocery stores and parks, on buses and sidewalks.

As we all look to protect our loved ones and ourselves, many have asked if this is the right thing to do.

What we know about the virus that causes COVID-19 is that it spreads from droplets when people who are infected with the virus cough, sneeze or expel droplets when they are in close contact (within one to two metres) with others. This is why physical distancing is so important and why self-isolation is necessary when we are ill or have recently travelled. This is also why washing our hands, covering our mouths when we cough, and not touching our face or eyes are the best actions we, as individuals, can take during the pandemic.

Equally important is the need to reserve medical masks and N95 respirators for our health-care-workers. It is their job to care for us when we are ill and having the correct protective equipment to do that is crucial for them and for all of us.

So how do non-medical cloth masks fit in? The Canadian public health special advisory committee has closely reviewed evidence from around the world to answer this question. We now know that some people can spread the virus when they have very mild symptoms or may be unaware they are infected.

As Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has explained, a non-medical cloth mask or face covering can help you keep your own droplets out of the air and off surfaces. Choosing to wear such a face covering is like coughing or sneezing into a tissue or your sleeve.

A non-medical cloth mask or face covering, while helpful in containing your own droplets, will not protect you from COVID-19, nor is wearing one required of you if you can keep your safe distance from others. Moreover, using a cloth mask does not give you permission to disregard physical distancing and self-isolation orders. Indeed, these, along with respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene, remain the key proven measures to stop transmission.

Wearing a cloth mask or face covering is a matter of personal choice. It is another tool you can choose, particularly when maintaining that important safe distance can be a challenge.

Our most important advice remains the same: if you are sick, you should stay home. Wearing a cloth mask may contain your virus droplets, but it does not make it okay to go out. Maintain a safe distance from others when you are out, clean your hands regularly and avoid touching your face.

I applaud the creativity and ingenuity of many who have taken the time to make these cloth masks and it is encouraging to see the social connections that have been made by sharing patterns and creative ideas online.

RELATED: Non-medical masks can help, Dr. Theresa Tam says

RELATED: Prescriptions down to 30 days to prevent hoarding

If you choose to wear a non-medical cloth mask or face covering, I remind you of the importance of continuing to not touch your face when wearing it. This is often challenging especially for small children, and of course, be cautious when removing the cloth mask. Wash it regularly and do not share it with others.

We want everyone to stand united and stay strong. Every British Columbian has a part to play in flattening the curve. Let’s all be safe, be calm, be kind and do the right thing.

For the latest medical updates, including case counts, prevention, risks and testing, visit: http://www.bccdc.ca/

Or follow @CDCofBC on Twitter.

For the provincial health officer’s orders, notices and guidance, visit: www.gov.bc.ca/phoguidance

For non-health related information, including financial, child care and education supports, travel, transportation and essential service information, visit: www.gov.bc.ca/COVID19

Or call 1 888 COVID19 (1 888 268-4319) between 7:30 a.m. and 8 p.m., seven days a week.

Dr. Bonnie Henry is provincial health officer for British Columbia.

BC legislatureCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Willow, a kitten belonging to a Victoria family, was rescued by firefighters on Thursday after she got stuck in a basement drain pipe. (City of Victoria/Twitter)
Victoria kitten stuck in basement drain pipe rescued by firefighters

Willow the cat on the mend, owner feeling ‘enormous gratitude’

(Black Press Media file photo)
Blue-green algae bloom confirmed in Elk Lake, water-based activities not recommended

Blue-green algae can be lethal to dogs, cause health issues for humans

Victoria police arrested a man Jan. 15 after he rammed his minivan into an occupied police vehicle. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria man arrested for ramming minivan into occupied police vehicle

Man caught after fleeing, crashing into cement retaining wall

A fire sparked at an encampment between the Pat Bay Highway and McKenzie Avenue early Thursday morning. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Residents of Pat Bay Highway encampment to be relocated after early morning fire, site secured for clean up

Eviction notice issued in 2020, not enforced to allow BC Housing to connect with campers

Mayor Rob Martin and Costa Canna president Phil Floucault cut the ribbon on Colwood’s first cannabis retail store. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Cowichan Tribes’ Costa Canna cannabis store opens in Colwood

Cowichan Tribes has one-year deal to grow, sell cannabis

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Terry David Mulligan. (Submitted photo)
Podcast: Interview with longtime actor/broadcaster and B.C. resident Terry David Mulligan

Podcast: Talk includes TDM’s RCMP career, radio, TV, wine, Janis Joplin and much more

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virtually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government reinforces importance of anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Most Read