As Alberta’s COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise, the province’s chief medical officer of health is weighing in on federal recommendations that a two-layer face mask isn’t adequate protection anymore.
On Tuesday, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam made a new recommendation that people should be wearing triple-layer non-medical masks now, with one of those layers being a filter-like fabric.
Speaking to media on Wednesday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw echoed that three-layer masks “do increase the protection,” but stressed there is no one solution to limiting coronavirus transmission.
“It’s not zero protection and full protection,” she said.
“Additional layers add additional protection and, again, the current evidence would indicate that those three layers are important. However, I would encourage people if they haven’t yet had time to get a three-layer mask to continue wearing the two-layer.”
Hinshaw said many two-layer masks have a pocket sewn in for the option of putting in a filter or extra layer of fabric.
Tam also said Tuesday that she’s not advising Canadians to “throw out everything that you have” when it comes to two-layer masks, adding that the fit of a mask is more important than the number of layers — masks should fully cover the nose and mouth, and having a nose pinch option at the top is also beneficial.
Dr. Vanessa Meier-Stephenson, an infectious disease physician and virologist with the University of Calgary, said two-layer masks that are worn correctly still provide an effective layer of protection.
“And keeping distance from others when you can and washing your hands whenever the opportunity arises are all really big parts of this,” she said.
Meier-Stephenson said while people acquiring three-layer masks would be ideal, a properly worn two-layer mask will offer protection as well to people who wear them and those around them.
Before the start of the school year, the government of Alberta distributed two cloth face masks to every school student and staff member in the province as part of its back-to-school plan.
On Wednesday, Hinshaw said health officials were looking at the masks distributed to Alberta’s schools, adding the “vast majority” actually have three layers of cloth.
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According to Alberta Education, just under 80 per cent of the masks given out by the province were triple-layer.
“Procurement and distribution was done according to federal directives at that time,” the department said in an email.
“Given that this was a recent change by Health Canada, conversations are ongoing regarding the small number of two-layer masks that were distributed to schools and how to best manage those situations.”
As of Tuesday, Alberta had 6,110 active cases of COVID-19, after recording an average of 567 new cases each day for the past four days.
— With files from The Canadian Press