Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing Wednesday May 13, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Wearing non-medical masks now recommended in public: Canada’s top doctor

Hand-washing, staying home when sick are still key, officials say

The country’s chief medical officer is now recommending that non-medical masks be worn when physical distancing is not possible this spring and summer.

Dr. Theresa Tam unveiled the new advice Wednesday (May 20) in the perhaps final evolution of federal advice on non-medical masks.

“Use of non-medical masks is recommended as an added layer of protection when physical distancing is difficult to maintain,” Tam said, although she noted that masks are not a replacement for distancing where possible, hand-washing and staying home when sick.

“Hand-washing is the right accessory for all venues and accessories.”

As provinces around the country begin to reopen, Tam acknowledged that this was “not the grand reopening” Canadians might want, but that measures to prevent transmission would allow more time for treatments and a vaccine to be developed.

Tam defended her office’s messaging on masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Her position on masks has changed from saying the masks “can” help prevent transmission in early April to a firm recommendation today. South of the border, the U.S. Centre for Disease Control told Americans to wear masks in public on April 3.

“The earlier messaging was more permissive,” Tam said.

“It is an added layer of protection. It is for you to protect others.”

Even last week, Tam told reporters that recommending masks for all is “easier said than done” and that making sure masks were even available for all has been a consideration in whether to make masks orders mandatory.

“We have to make sure people have access,” she said at the time.

Tam said Wednesday’s announcement was a recommendation, and not an order, because different provincial health officers must make decisions based on virus transmission in their jurisdiction.

As she was peppered with questions about her changing mask advice, Tam said the focus should be on the “here and now,” and that changing advice over the weeks and months was the right move for Canada.

“Now that we are reopening… a lot of activities, the chief medical officers felt we can recommend this for people who cannot maintain that two metre distance.”

As of Wednesday morning, Canada had more than 79,000 test positive cases of COVID-19 and 5,912 deaths. More than 1.3 million people have been tested for the virus, with about five per cent positive.

READ MORE: Wearing non-medical masks can stop spread of COVID-19 before symptoms start

READ MORE: Non-medical masks can help when physical distancing not possible, says Tam

READ MORE: Canada’s top doctors defend mask advice as country tops 50,000 COVID-19 cases

READ MORE: Only two new COVID-19 cases in B.C., one in care home


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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