Skip to main content

Know the Facts about Wearing Masks

Frequently Asked Questions

Posted by Medavie Blue Cross on August 10, 2020

Editor’s Note: We’ve consulted the world’s leading health experts, including the World Health Organization and Health Canada, to compile answers to frequently asked questions about wearing non-medical masks or facial coverings during the pandemic.

Why should we wear masks?

COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact with one another (within about two metres), so the use of cloth face coverings is particularly important in settings where people are close to each other or where physical (social) distancing is difficult to maintain.

Important to note: Wearing a mask alone will not prevent the spread of COVID-19. Be sure to practice good hygiene and follow public health measures, including frequent hand washing and physical distancing.

How do masks slow the spread of COVID-19?

When we cough, sneeze, talk, sing or even raise our voice we send respiratory droplets from our mouth and nose into the air and onto other people. Face coverings are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling. This is called source control.

Is there evidence to show that non-medical masks are effective in controlling COVID-19?

Combined with what is already known about virus control, there is mounting evidence from clinical and laboratory studies that shows cloth face coverings reduce the spray of droplets when worn over the nose and mouth.

Keep in mind: COVID-19 can be spread by people who do not have symptoms and do not know that they are infected.

When and where should masks be worn?

Health Canada recommends that a homemade non-medical mask/facial covering be worn when it is not possible to maintain a safe physical (social) distance from others (two metres or a hockey stick apart) not in your household, family bubble or safe social circle. This applies especially to public settings like:

  • Grocery stores
  • Retail locations
  • City transportation

In some provinces or municipalities, the use of masks in many indoor public spaces and on public transit is now mandatory. This is based on several factors, such as infection and community transmission rates. Check with your local public health authority on the mask-wearing requirements for your location.

Does everyone have to wear a mask, or can exceptions be made?

Masks should not be placed on:

  • children under the age of two years
  • anyone who has trouble breathing
  • anyone who is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the cloth face covering without help

There are specific instances when wearing a cloth face covering may not be feasible such as when:

  • Communicating with a person who is deaf or hard of hearing
  • Engaging in high intensity activities or swimming
  • Working in a setting that may increase the risk of a heat-related illness or cause a safety concern (for example, straps getting caught in machinery)

In these instances, adaptations and alternatives should be considered whenever possible to increase the feasibility of wearing a cloth face covering or to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading if it is not possible to wear one.

How should masks be worn?

When worn properly, a person wearing a non-medical mask or face covering can reduce the spread of his or her own infectious respiratory droplets.

Non-medical face masks or face coverings should:

  • allow for easy breathing
  • fit securely to the head with ties or ear loops
  • be changed as soon as possible if damp or dirty
  • be made of at least 2 layers of tightly woven material fabric (such as cotton or linen)

Some masks also include a pocket liner to hold a paper towel or disposable coffee filter for extra benefit.

How should masks not be worn?

Non-medical masks or face coverings should not:

  • be shared with others
  • impair vision or interfere with tasks
  • be made of plastic or other non-breathable materials

How often should masks be worn?

Cloth face coverings should be washed after each use. It’s also important to wash your hands after handling or touching a used face covering.

How should masks be cleaned?

• Include your face covering with your regular laundry
• Use regular laundry detergent and the warmest appropriate water setting for the cloth used to make the face covering
• Use the highest heat setting and leave in the dryer until completely dry

Always remember: Wearing a mask is a step, not a shield, in preventing us from getting or spreading COVID-19. However, if everyone wears a mask, takes every day preventative actions and practices social distancing, we can protect one another, and reduce the community transmission of this virus.