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Top doctor ‘not against’ widespread mask use, as B.C.’s COVID-19 death toll hits 25

B.C.’s provincial health officer said Wednesday that she is “not against” the widespread use of non-medical masks as the world grapples with the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry made the comments as she confirmed 53 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, for a total of 1,066 in the province.

Henry also announced one new fatality, bringing B.C.’s death toll to 25, adding that 606 people have fully recovered from the virus.

Dr. Henry’s comments came amid reports that major public health agencies such as the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Infection Were considering recommending the general use of non-medical masks.

There is growing evidence that people may be able to spread the virus before realizing they have symptoms.

READ MORE: More evidence that healthy people spread coronavirus, scientists say

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“What is not proven is that they provide you with any protection, and I think that’s the really critical part,” said Henry.

“[They] may reduce in some cases the touching of your face … we also know they can have some benefit about keeping your droplets in.”
East Toronto Hospital’s face mask challenge receives unprecedented volunteerism
East Toronto Hospital’s face mask challenge receives unprecedented volunteerism

Henry said medical masks should still be reserved for front-line workers, amid concerns about the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).

She also cautioned people who opt to use non-medical masks to be careful about touching their faces, and to be aware of the need to ensure masks are kept clean.

READ MORE: Vancouver homeless charity turns to homemade masks amid coronavirus pandemic

She said people need to remember that physical distancing and hand washing remain the best way to protect ourselves.

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The federal government has issued its own bulletin with safety considerations around the use of home-made masks.

Outbreaks have now been confirmed in 21 seniors’ care facilities in B.C.

“It really reflects the challenging situation when you have transmission ongoing in a facility and the importance of catching these really early,” said Henry.

Henry said just two facilities, North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley Care Centre and Vancouver’s Haro Park Centre, have seen large outbreaks.

“For most of the other ones it is a single case identified,” she said.

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Note: No data provided for Sunday, Mar. 22 and Sunday, Mar.
Note: No data provided for Sunday, Mar. 22 and Sunday, Mar. Data: BC Centre for Disease Control

Henry said 142 people are now in hospital, 67 of them in critical care. She said 606 people have fully recovered from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Wednesday that the province has 4,192 empty hospital beds, with facilities at 61 per cent capacity.

READ MORE: B.C. premier extends state of emergency, asks people to ‘re-commit’ to COVID-19 fight

On Tuesday, B.C. health officials warned that some version of harsh restrictions that have been put in place to curb the spread of the virus would likely remain until “at least” the summer.

Premier John Horgan on Tuesday formally extended the province’s state of emergency until April 14.