The on again, off again debate and confusion about wearing face masks seems to be moving firmly over towards the side of wearing masks. Starting June 15, 2020 every person 2 years of age and up wanting to board most BC ferries must have a mask of their own before they will be permitted to board. The Town of Qualicum Beach, having reopened for business on June 8, 2020, now asks visitors to Town Hall to wear a “non-surgical mask.”
On June 1, 2020 The Lancet medical journal, announcing the results of an examination of 172 studies conducted across 16 countries, confirmed that the wearing of masks by the general public can help lessen the spread of the new corona virus. The review, co-led by Professor Holger Schünemann of McMaster University, also says that some studies found that the “risk of infection or transmission when wearing a mask was 3% vs 17% when not wearing a mask.” The most effective non-medical (aka non-surgical) masks are those that have two layers of tight-woven fabric, with place for a filter in between the two layers to trap moisture. Medical masks such as the N-95 respirator masks should be reserved for front-line healthcare providers only.
Canadian public health officials who vigorously disputed the value of masks when the outbreak began have now been persuaded of their value as one tool in the fight against COVID-19. BC’s Public Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam now concur that masks can help slow the spread of infection if used properly. However, they and other infectious disease experts continue to stress that masks do not replace the directive that people remain two meters / six feet apart from persons who are not a resident of their household. Masks are not a substitute for other key actions such as frequent, thorough hand-washing, they are an added measure of protection.
While the Town of Qualicum Beach asks people to wear masks to protect staff when they visit Town Hall, COVID-19 signs in front of Town Hall do not make any reference to masks. Also, there appears to be no requirement for Town officials and staff to also wear masks to protect the public from transmission of the virus.
Mask wearing by the public in Richmond, BC is being credited with helping them maintain the lowest percentage of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the hard-hit Lower Mainland, 444 cases per million (CPM) residents. On June 4, 2020, Dr. Bonnie Henry, revealed that Richmond had a low rate of infection, comparing very favourably against Vancouver at 832 CPM, the North Shore with 911 CPM, and the Fraser Health region (stretching from Abbotsford to Hope) with 1,241 cases per million.
As reported by Dr. Henry, the only other region in the rest of BC with a significantly higher percentage of confirmed COVID-19 cases was north Vancouver Island (comprising areas north of Qualicum Beach), with 483 CPM. By comparison, central Vancouver Island had 92 CPM, and south Vancouver Island had 112 confirmed cases per million residents.
Some businesses and industries adopted masks early on. Mike McKenna, executive director of the BC Construction Safety Alliance says that, in addition to directing workers to adhere to strict physical distancing, “as experts in personal protective equipment, the industry deployed face masks for workers and established additional hand-washing and hand-sanitizing stations at work sites.”
Large retail outlets however have generally been lagging behind the wearing of masks, relying primarily on physical distancing measures and plexiglas shields at check-out stations. Many retail outlets have not directed either staff or customers to wear masks. This practice may come at a price for these essential workers. As reported in the National Post on May 23, 2020, “at least 500 food-retail and pharmacy employees throughout Canada have tested positive.”
Grocery and retail giants such as Sobeys, Loblaws, Shoppers Drug Mart and Walmart all confirmed infections of staff and “some deaths.” United Food and Commercial Workers union spokesperson Barry Sawyer said “less than 10” of his union’s workers have died from COVID-19. However, Costco, Rexall and Pharmasave did not respond when asked to divulge the number of confirmed corona virus infections among staff working at their stores.
Non-medical masks seem to be readily available at this time for purchase in and around Qualicum Beach or online. Masks by Moji made by seamstresses laid off because of COVID-19 can be purchased for $15-$20 each. The Vancouver clothing company, Kit and Ace, is offering reusable cotton masks with an inner silk lining and adjustable nose clips for $15, all proceeds donated. For those who have the skill, means and time, there are many patterns online for making homemade masks. Some of the best patterns are from health facilities like the one from Unity Point Health in Iowa that comes with video instruction as well. Infectious disease experts recommend masks be washed daily after being used in public. Check online for the tips on the safe handling of masks during and after wearing.
Again, remember that face masks are not a substitute for other key actions such as frequent, thorough hand-washing or maintaining a distance of 2 meters from people who are not members of your household. Masks are an added measure of protection.