The country’s top doctor unveiled new recommendations Tuesday for non-medical masks, saying they should be made of at least three layers and stressing their importance as the country heads indoors for winter amid a surging COVID-19 case count.
Face masks should comprise two layers of tightly woven fabric such as cotton or linen, plus a third layer of a “filter-type fabric” such as polypropylene, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“We’re not necessarily saying throw out everything that you have,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said at a news conference.
“The fit is the most important thing,” she said, emphasizing a nose pinch and full coverage of nose and mouth, but also comfort and breathability.
In a departure from news conference habit, the country’s top politicians and doctors wore their masks except when speaking, underscoring the role of face coverage in battling the pandemic as temperatures drop. Ordinarily participants take off their masks once they take their places.
“Because it’s winter, because we’re all going inside, we’re learning more about droplets and aerosols. It’s just another layer of protection,” Tam said in Ottawa.
The World Health Organization recommended wearing filtered, three-layer masks as early as June 12, but Tam said face coverings are an area of “evolving science.”
Masks, physical distancing and partial lockdowns make up some of the main defences against the contagion until the arrival of a vaccine, which Tam hopes will be available in limited supply “as early as possible in 2021.”
“The exact timing is really difficult to identify today, because It really all hinges on how the vaccines perform in these critical trials,” said Dr. Matthew Tunis, executive secretary to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
When vaccines do emerge for distribution, four groups should be prioritized for early immunization, according to the committee: those at high risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, including Canadians aged 70 and older; those most likely to transmit the virus to high-risk residents, such as health-care workers; essential workers; and people whose living conditions up their risk of catching the disease, including those in Indigenous communities.
Governments have struggled to weigh health priorities against economic woes and pandemic fatigue as uncertainty around vaccines and the prospect of social isolation add a bleaker tint to the onset of winter.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2020.
— with files from Shawn Jeffords and Jordan Press
Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press