Public Health Agency of Canada now recommends wearing non-medical face masks
OTTAWA -- Canada's chief public health officer is officially recommending Canadians wear non-medical face masks when maintaining a two-metre distance isn’t possible.
Dr. Theresa Tam made the announcement on Wednesday, less than an hour after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed he has been wearing a mask. Tam told reporters that the language on masks has shifted from "permissive" to a "specific recommendation."
"If you can’t predict whether you can maintain that two-metre distance, then it’s recommended that you wear the non-medical mask or facial covering," Tam said.
She said Public Health will be posting the updated recommendations on medical masks online today, noting that the recommendation isn’t mandatory and will allow for public health officers across Canada to consider their area’s needs.
Countries around the world have been navigating non-medical mask wearing in different ways. Spain had previously made masks compulsory on public transit, and starting Thursday, will make them compulsory in public places — including the outdoors — for all people over the age of six.
Within Canada, some grocery stores and airlines are asking Canadians to wear non-medical masks while using their services.
Trudeau said that he himself has taken up mask wearing in instances where he can't maintain a physical distance of two metres from others.
"In situations where I am either walking through the halls of parliament or going to my office and coming in proximity to people, I’ve chosen to start wearing a mask," Trudeau said.
"That's my personal choice, that is aligned, I think, with what public health is recommending. I think we all need to adjust to what works in our circumstances and keep safety at the forefront of what we’re doing."
Mask wearing has been the subject of debate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In the early days of the outbreak, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned that masks could provide a false sense of security as they do not prevent the wearer from contracting the novel coronavirus. She also cautioned that mask wearing could encourage the wearer to touch their face more frequently, putting them at greater risk of coming into contact with the virus.
However, Tam said non-medical masks can stop a wearer from spraying droplets on others if they're sneezing or coughing. That means that wearing a non-medical mask could help curb transmission, especially amid reports of asymptomatic carriers.
On April 4, Tam shifted her tone and stopped recommending against the wearing of non-medical masks. She told reporters during a press conference that day that a homemade facial covering could be beneficial.
"For example, if you’re in public transit and you cannot easily practice the two metres (of physical distancing), for example, then having that additional covering, like covering up your cough, I think, is a good idea," she said at the time.
In that same week, both Tam and Health Minister Patty Hajdu said they had begun wearing non-medical masks in situations where physical distancing isn't possible.
Guidelines on the use of non-medical masks can be found here.