With all the information swirling around, it can be difficult to know what guidelines to follow. But there are a few things you can do to protect yourself and others.
To wear a mask or not to wear a mask? That is the question.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, mask-wearing was a topic of discussion with most officials. In North America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer both stayed clear from recommending that the public wear masks unless they were showing symptoms.
Health agencies cited the increased risk that comes from improperly worn personal protective equipment, stating that masks could do more harm than good.
But on April 3, the CDC reversed their position on masks, recommending that Americans cover their faces when going out in public. Several days later, Canadian officials echoed the message.
This seemingly contradictory messaging makes it difficult for individuals to understand how best to protect themselves.
Medical masks should be saved for medical professionals. Full stop. We need to protect our most vulnerable during this time. We may not think that healthcare workers fall into this category, but they are at increased risk for infection due to their potential exposure to the virus.
Masks like N-95s should only be used by healthcare professionals to protect them from illness. Surgical masks should also be rationed for use in medical settings, not grocery stores.
In a public setting, cloth masks are not nearly as effective as surgical masks, but are better than nothing. According to a 2013 study from Cambridge University, wrapping a dish towel around your face will work best in a pinch.
The microbes used in the study were not SARS-CoV-2 or even influenza. But they were good stand-ins that illustrated how materials would block microbes ranging in size from 950 nanometers all the way down to 23 nanometers. For reference, the SARS-CoV-2 virus is between 50-200 nanometers.
While mask-wearing can cut down on transmission, it is not a guarantee of safety. Both surgical and cloth masks will not protect you from others. Masks are worn to protect others from you. If worn correctly, a mask will block your sneezes, coughs and, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau phrased it, “prevent you from speaking moistly”.
That being said, if everyone wore a mask correctly — that is the caveat here — then transmission could drop significantly.
Cover your nose and mouth with the mask for the duration of your time in public. Don’t wear it on your chin or on your forehead. When taking off the mask, remove it from the ear straps. Do not touch your face. Throw away a disposable mask after every use. And if it’s a cloth mask, immediately wash it and dry it before wearing it again.
Should you slip on a pair of gloves?
No, please do not wear gloves.
Much like masks, gloves need to be worn correctly to be effective. You can’t wear gloves in public because of cross-contamination. Gloves are worn for specific activities in a medical or laboratory setting and then immediately removed.
In a grocery store, you are touching multiple objects — including your face, your phone, your wallet, that box of cereal and that bunch of bananas. This is cross-contamination.
On May 13, the Saskatchewan Health Authority released a public health message that urged individuals not to wear gloves.
While there is conflicting evidence for the efficacy of wearing masks that makes that conversation more nuanced, the argument for glove-wearing is pretty cut and dried.
Ditch the gloves and wash your damn hands.
Can I hang out with my friends?
The messaging is mixed on this one. We know that COVID-19 is spread through close contact with individuals who are shedding the virus. The virus is spread through respiratory droplets that are expelled through the mouth and nose during coughing, sneezing, close talking and singing. There is evidence of asymptomatic transmission, meaning you could be infected and not show any outward signs of it.
The Saskatchewan government prohibits gatherings greater than 10, but that doesn’t mean you can hang out with nine of your friends. The caveat on that is that you need to keep your circle small. Limit your interactions to members of your household and one or two designated “families” that would form an extended household.
So in theory, you could create an extended household with two of your friends. This number would increase if several of your friends lived together in one house. Other than that though, your number of contacts should be limited.
The message here is: keep the circle small and closed.
Erin Matthews | Communications Director
Graphic: Anh Phan