A message from Dr. Shannon McDonald, FNHA Chief Medical Officer; and Dr. Becky Palmer, FNHA Chief Nursing Officer
To mask or not to mask – that is not in question. By now, we trust that you are well aware masks are required in public indoor settings for people five and older.
A properly worn mask can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 when layered with the current public health recommendations.
We have received many questions about masks, and, as clinical experts, we will try and answer all of your questions. Links provided throughout this document will offer even more detailed information and explanations.
Q: What are the different types of masks, and how are they different from each other?
A: The most well-known masks are 1) cloth /disposable / non-medical masks, which are either homemade or commercially made; and 2) medical masks, which are commercially made and must meet established filtration standards.
Q: Which type of mask provides the best protection?
A: For general use, we recommend a medical mask, or a cloth mask with an insertable filter. But the best mask for you is the one you will wear properly and consistently. This means a well-fitting mask that is still comfortable enough to keep on for long periods when necessary. If you're fidgeting with an uncomfortable mask and even taking it partly off at times—we've all seen that one person in the grocery store with a mask over their mouth but not their nose—it's not the safest choice!
An alternative to masks is a KN95/N95 respirator; these are made to a particular standard and designed to prevent inhalation of hazardous airborne contaminants. Ensuring proper fit over the nose, mouth, and chin is essential to keep unfiltered air from entering and exiting the gap between the respirator and face. It is also important to avoid touching the eyes and mask without first washing your hands.
Healthcare workers working directly with patients regularly conduct clinical assessments to determine the type of personal protective equipment they require, e.g., medical masks vs N95/ respirators, eye protection, gowns, etc. In clinical settings where N95s are required, healthcare workers must undergo a fit-testing process to ensure proper fit and function.
The general public may choose to purchase well-fitted KN95/N95 or equivalent respirators. Non-healthcare providers do not need to undergo fit testing. Respirators with valves are not recommended because they allow the breath of the wearer to escape.
Q: Why do hospitals and other medical facilities usually give visitors medical masks and not KN95/N95 respirators?
A: Visitors are not dealing directly with high-risk patients.
Q: Who should wear medical masks rather than cloth masks?
A: Those who have tested positive for or have symptoms of COVID-19, who are at risk of more severe disease or outcomes from COVID-19, and/or who are at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 because of their living situation.
For detailed comparisons of the various masks available, see this chart from the Government of Canada.
Q: How do I use my mask properly?
A: See this guide on our website, where we have extensive information on all things COVID-19-related. You can also see this information on the website of the BC Centre for Disease Control.
Q: Does my cloth mask still work against the more transmissible variant?
A: Yes; cloth masks that are made from three layers of tightly woven, breathable fabric can be effective if worn properly. As with other masks, cloth masks are most effective when they fit comfortably over the mouth and nose, with no gaps around the face. Some cloth masks are designed with a pocket for a filter and may provide more protection when the filter is used. It is important to remember that masks are only one of the effective layers of protection that can prevent spreading the virus.
Q: Where should I wear a mask other than indoor public indoor settings?
A: First Nations people living on reserve continue to be disproportionately at risk of COVID-19 due to factors such as overcrowded and poorly ventilated dwellings that limit the ability to physically distance. In circumstances where a household member is infected with COVID-19, wearing medical masks indoors at home is recommended. Other settings where mask wearing would be advisable, although not mandated, is a crowded outdoor space where physical distancing is not possible.
See this webpage for more information on masks in community settings.
Please keep up the good work of following public health orders and recommendations!
If you are not yet fully vaccinated (two shots), please book an appointment today! It could decrease your risk of severe disease and hospitalization due to COVID-19. If you are fully vaccinated and your second shot was over six months ago, be sure to get your booster. Pregnant people are at higher risk due to COVID-19 and are eligible for a booster shot eight weeks after their second dose. The efficacy of all vaccines fades over time, which is why boosters are needed for optimal protection.