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Public Health Agency of Canada- new COVID-19 mask guidance

Why wearing a mask continues to be important

It’s important to continue practising all public health measures recommended by local public health authorities, including individual measures, such as wearing a mask. This is because:

  • although COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Canada provide substantial protection against severe illness, no vaccine is 100% effective
    • we now know that protection may decrease over time
  • we’ve learned that fully vaccinated individuals can still be infected and transmit the COVID-19 virus
    • however, this is less likely to occur among fully vaccinated individuals than for those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated
  • as it gets colder and when more of our activities move indoors, we may come into closer contact with others outside of our household

When layered with other recommended public health measures, a well-constructed, well-fitting and properly worn mask can help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Masks can help:

  • contain your respiratory particles
  • prevent or reduce the amount of infectious respiratory particles you inhale, particularly when wearing a well-constructed, well-fitting mask 

When to wear a mask

Make wearing a mask part of your regular routine.

Follow local public health advice on when you should wear a mask. Masks may be recommended or required in public settings like:

  • stores
  • schools
  • businesses
  • workplaces
  • public transit

Even if masks aren't required in your area or the setting you’re in, wearing a mask is an added layer of protection. Whether you’re vaccinated or not, you should consider wearing one in shared spaces with people from outside of your immediate household. This is especially important indoors, whether in private or public settings.

Masks are strongly recommended in any crowded setting, including settings with vaccination requirements. 

What type of mask to choose

Different types of masks are available for public use. Non-medical masks, medical masks and respirators can all be used in the community. A respirator worn in the community doesn’t need to have been formally fit tested as is required in some occupational settings.

The effectiveness of non-medical masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19 can vary based on many factors. It depends on material, construction, fit and proper use. Some non-medical masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 similarly to medical masks if they:

  • fit well
  • have multiple layers, including at least 2 layers of breathable tightly woven fabric, such as cotton and
  • an effective middle filter layer

Few non-medical masks provide information about their filtration effectiveness.

In general, while non-medical masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, medical masks and respirators provide better protection. No matter which type of mask you choose, proper fit is a key factor in its effectiveness. 

Mask standards

There’s currently no required standard for non-medical masks sold in Canada. Medical masks and respirators sold in Canada are required to meet established standards for filtration, breathability and fluid resistance. 

Situations for medical mask use

Medical masks are recommended for:

  • anyone who has tested positive for or has symptoms of COVID-19
  • people caring for someone who has tested positive or has symptoms of COVID-19
  • people who live in an overcrowded setting with someone who has tested positive or has symptoms of COVID-19
  • people who are at risk of more severe disease or outcomes from COVID-19
  • people who are at higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 because of their living situation

Individuals in the above situations could also consider using a respirator. 

Materials and construction

How well a mask works depends on many factors, including its materials, construction and fit. How well a mask works also depends on fit. When choosing a mask, keep in mind:

  • masks with a flexible nosepiece may provide a better fit over the nose
  • the fit of the mask can vary depending on the size and features of your face
  • masks with ties or bands that go around the back of the head may provide a better fit
    • if choosing an ear loop-style mask, use one with adjustable ear loops or use the tips below to improve fit
  • respirators are designed to fit snugly on the face, which may allow for a better fit than a medical mask or non-medical mask
    • a respirator worn in the community doesn’t need to have been formally fit tested as is required in some occupational settings

A well-fitting mask should:

  • be large enough to completely and comfortably cover the nose, mouth and chin without gaps and not allow air to escape from edges
  • fit securely to the head with ties, bands or ear loops
  • be comfortable and not require frequent adjustments
  • maintain its shape after washing and drying (for non-medical masks only)

Ways to improve fit include:

  • adjusting ties or ear loops
  • adjusting the flexible nosepiece
  • tying knots in the ear loops and tucking the sides of the mask so that it lies flat
  • using a mask fitter or brace
    • a mask fitter or brace is a device made of flexible material worn over a mask to help provide a snug fit
      • fitters and braces may be made of plastic or silicone
  • layering a well-fitting non-medical cloth mask over the top of a disposable mask to improve the fit
    • this will help to push the edges of the disposable mask closer to your face
    • make sure that you can still breathe easily when wearing 2 masks
  • keeping facial hair and beards shaved or short, if possible, so the mask can fit more closely to your face

Proper use and care

To make mask use as effective as possible, it’s essential to make sure you’re using, storing and cleaning them properly.

A mask is most effective when it's worn properly. Keep your nose and mouth covered while wearing a mask to prevent exposing yourself and others to potentially infectious respiratory particles.

Wash your hands or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you:

  • adjust your mask
  • put your mask on
  • take your mask off

It's important to keep your mask clean when not in use, or when eating or drinking.

Do not hang the mask from your ears or place it under your chin. Store it in a clean paper or cloth bag until you put it on again. Properly clean and disinfect any items that improve mask fit, like braces and mask fitters. Discard disposable masks and filters properly in a garbage container or use a mask recycling program if one is available.

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