Coronavirus: B.C.’s top doctor recommends non-medical masks in some scenarios

Click to play video: 'Dr. Bonnie Henry weighs in on the use of non-medical masks in public'
Dr. Bonnie Henry weighs in on the use of non-medical masks in public
At her daily COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, Dr. Bonnie Henry told reporters when British Columbians should consider using non-medical masks – May 21, 2020

B.C.’s provincial health officer has joined her federal counterparts in officially recommending the use of non-medical masks in certain situations.

“It is something that we should get used to,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry on Thursday.

Henry has weighed in on the use of masks several times, and has been consistent in her message that while they do not protect the wearer, they can help the person wearing the mask from spreading infected droplets to others.

She has also been consistent in her message that the best way to stop the virus is to maintain physical distancing and proper hand hygiene.

But with B.C. reopening parts of its economy this week, Henry said the public will increasingly find themselves in situations where that distancing can’t be maintained — such as on transit, small shops or in personal services businesses where interaction is necessary.

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In those cases, she said, masks can act as an “additional layer” against transmission.

Click to play video: 'Non-medical masks — should we wear them or not?'
Non-medical masks — should we wear them or not?

“Now that we know more about the virus, I think there are situations where it is important for us to cover our droplets, and transit is a classic example,” said Henry at her Thursday briefing.

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“In that sense, it certainly is something that people can consider, and we would recommend in certain situations, for those small periods of time where you may not be able to control your distance.”

Henry said people who do choose to wear masks should remember to wash them frequently.

She added that masks are most effective for containing droplets during close contact in indoor spaces, and should not be necessary when outdoors and alone.

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She also noted that there are many people who can not safely wear masks for a variety of reasons, and that people should be respectful of that.

And Henry reiterated that measures such as staying home when sick, covering your mouth when you cough and keeping physically distant remain the most important ways to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Earlier Thursday, TransLink laid out its new plans for service during the pandemic, which included the recommendation that passengers wear non-medical masks.

On Wednesday, Canada’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam officially recommended the use of non-medical masks in situations where physical distancing can’t be maintained.

Federal officials had initially advised against wearing masks.

In April, they modified that position to say that people who don’t have symptoms of COVID-19 could wear non-medical masks when in public as “an additional measure” to avoid spreading droplets, but didn’t present it as an official recommendation.

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