Variants: should we review the ways of wearing the mask?

Grant Boone
February 1, 2021

"When you see me out when I am not talking to a screen but with people, this is what I do, even though I am so-called protected from clinical disease", he said. "Double masking alone is not enough protection".

As highly contagious variants of the COVID-19 virus begin to spread in Canada and elsewhere, some public health officials around the world are switching up face mask advice.

Adalja: If they have a cloth mask that has multiple layers - three layers or so - in it, that would be sufficient.

Linsey Marr, a Virginia Tech engineering professor who has researched mask effectiveness past year, tells the Post, "Those standard cloth masks might be around 50 percent effective in terms of protecting yourself. Nothing has changed, its just we're noticing people are trying to, but not quite meeting the mask recommendations".

Currently, Canada recommends using three-layer masks with a filter layer in the middle according to a November update to public health guidelines.

From double-masking to medical-grade masks, is it time to ramp up protection? This should still be true with variants, says Barr, but we need to be more careful.

Dr. Byrski also suggests face shields in addition to masks, as the new variants bring the pandemic "almost to square one" in terms of what we know about transmission.

Double masking: What is double masking?

"So cloth masks, generally more tightly woven cloth masks, two or three layers is best, single layer is not as good".

Bryski believes Canadians should consider upgrading to medical-grade disposable masks, which are available at many pharmacies and grocery stores, or even N95s with proper NIOSH or ECAN95 designations, which she expects will become more widely available. "As soon as you start adding walls, you're going to trap that more".

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While researchers have learnt more about the behaviour of the latest variant from outbreaks in the United Kingdom and Ireland, Furness stressed that those countries have different climates, different populations, different cultures and different health restrictions that impact how COVID-19 spreads. "They just say, the most important thing is get everybody to wear a mask".

BCTF president Teri Mooring said B.C. has fallen behind many other provinces in not requiring students to wear masks in their learning cohorts, and has asked parents to encourage their children aged 10 and older to wear them.

So, how should you double mask?

He has also introduced a mask mandate that will make social distancing and wearing face coverings compulsory for everyone in federal buildings and land. She explained that while cloth and surgical mask materials may not be fully filtering out tiny virus particles, they do still, in fact, make it more hard for them to infect people. When you hold your mask up to the light, you should not be able to see the individual fibers.

THE new strain of the novel coronavirus has put many on heightened alert, some of whom have masked up for safety.

Barr says cloth face coverings might still suffice in most scenarios, but we should also keep a good distance from others while wearing them now - and consider increasing that distance from six feet to 12.

Going for a solo walk with no one around may not necessitate a mask, but a crowded path might. Apart from the possibility of breathing in the droplets of the virus from the air, there is a risk of getting infected by touching surfaces.

"Canada is lucky in some ways to have that", she said with a laugh.

Adalja: I don't think we have strong data to be able to make these types of determinations.

"We should take a step back and strengthen our protections for others and for ourselves".

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