A group of doctors and dentists in B.C. are reiterating their call for mandatory masks in public spaces just one week after sending an open letter addressed to Premier John Horgan, health minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
The group Masks4Canada says face coverings should be worn in all indoor spaces outside homes, in public transportation or among crowds.
In their most recent press release, Masks4Canada doctors and dentists say that we are entering a “critical period in our fight against COVID-19”.
With cases in B.C. increasing frequently, the group says 20 per cent of cases in BC are not actually linked to specific outbreaks, but are community acquired.
“We know that cases are on the rise in the 20-30 year old demographic, and it is only a matter of time before this leads to transmission to the elderly and other at risk groups in their social circles,” says Masks4Canada.
Dr. Bonnie Henry has not made masks mandatory in B.C., however she has recommended they be worn in public spaces, specifically where physical distancing is harder to achieve.
Walmart Canada and BC Transit recently announced that starting in August, masks will be mandatory in stores and on public transit respectively.
Jonathan Dyck, Communications Manager for BC Transit explained that there are several exemptions for not wearing masks on transit including children under the age of five and those with medical conditions that prevent mask wearing.
“It is an education policy, not enforcement. So the assumption will be that anyone not wearing a mask on transit will fall under one of the exemptions,” said Dyck.
Dr. James Heilman, head of the emergency department at Cranbrook’s East Kootenay Regional Hospital, is one of the members of Masks4Canada. He says the trends are “extremely concerning” and that masks add a layer of protection. He was not speaking on behalf of Interior Health.
When asked how masks would help protect the public, Heilman responded saying that Masks work primarily by preventing small droplets that contain the virus from entering the air around you when you breathe out. Thus, when one wears a mask, they are protecting others.
“This is especially important because we have more and more evidence that a significant portion of people have COVID-19, but are asymptomatic and therefore may not know that they are unwittingly breathing out virus-laden droplets,” Heilman said in an email to the Townsman. “Masks may also work by preventing you from breathing in droplets emitted by others (though research is still evolving on this last point).”
In the press release from Masks4Canada, the group explains how there has been much confusion surrounding masks and their usefulness since the pandemic began. The group says that a growing body of research now shows that masks are helpful at reducing droplet emission.
Heilman says that early on in the pandemic there was concern about sufficient supplies being available for health care providers.
“They (masks) have always been recommended for this group of individuals when dealing with people who are at high risk of the disease,” said Heilman. “Additionally, the research showing that masks may work by containing the droplets emitted by the wearer has been evolving during the pandemic, and it is only recently that this aspect has become validated by scientific studies.
“Early on there were also concerns that masks would result in people touching their face more frequently. This has not turned out to be a concern.”
In terms of the mandate that Masks4Canada is calling for, Heilman says that they might not be calling for mandatory mask wearing if people were more proactive.
“Having rights and choice is certainly an important core Canadian value. However, it is also important that rules and laws are in place to ensure we protect others who also have a right to be protected from harm,” Heilman said. “This is the reason why laws exist for drinking and driving; why communicable infectious diseases are reportable; why people that handle your food at preparation plants wear hair covers and gloves.
“We had hoped that people would make the selfless choice to wear masks to protect their neighbours because it is the considerate thing to do; however, looking around, clearly people are not masking even in places where distancing is difficult,” he said. “Therefore, we are requesting a mandate for masking. It is a balance between one’s personal rights and the rights of the community.”
According to research published on Science Advances on August 7, 2020, which tested 16 different types of masks and their relative droplet count, fitted N95 masks (without a valve) release the least, but should be reserved for people performing high risk procedures or working in high risk environments.
Fleece proved to be the least effective, while regular cotton face coverings proved to be fairly effective.
Health Canada has set forth recommendations for non-medical mask (NMM) noting that masks should:
– fit securely to the head with ties or ear loops
– maintain their shape after washing and drying
– be changed as soon as possible if damp or dirty
– be comfortable and not require frequent adjustment
– be made of at least two layers of tightly woven material fabric (such as cotton or linen)
– be large enough to completely and comfortably cover the nose and mouth without gaping
Coverings that would not be recommended include knitted/crocheted/lace masks, bandanas and fleece neck gaiters. Additionally, versions with an exhalation valve should be avoided as they allow droplets potentially containing the virus to escape.
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