People wear masks as they leave the COVID-19 testing facility Friday, March 27, 2020 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Wearing non-medical masks can stop spread of COVID-19 before symptoms start: Tam

Health officials had previously not recommended wearing them

Health officials are now saying wearing a non-medical mask can help Canadians not pass along the novel coronavirus, even before they develop symptoms.

On Monday (April 6), Canada’s chief medical officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the special advisory committee has come to a consensus that “wearing a non medical mask even if you have no symptoms is an additional measure to protect others around you” in places where it is hard to guarantee physical distancing, such as grocery stores and public transit.

However, Tam noted wearing a mask does not mean Canadians can stop physically distancing, self-isolating or hand-washing measures..

“Wearing a non-medical mask in the community has not been proven to protect the person wearing it,” she said.

Tam said that non-medical masks could prevent the spread of COVID-19 from infected people who either have no symptoms or have not developed them yet. However, medical masks, such as N95s, must be saved for healthcare workers who need them, she added.

When questioned about why Canada is only now recommending non-medical masks, Tam said “the evidence is actually still quite weak” that the measure could help prevent asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread.

“These are very recent studies that have just come out,” she said.

Tam said Canadians can use materials they have at home such as cotton shirts, sheets and bandanas.

Some young people dying from COVID-19, Tam says

Across Canada, 339,000 tests have revealed at least 15,822 cases of COVID-19, the country’s chief medical officer said. About five per cent of those being tested are coming in positive.

Tam said 293 people have died due to the virus, including some in their 20s. According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, the 38 people who have died due to the virus in the province have been between 64 and 94 years old.

“Although older ages are most at risk, no one can predict when critical illness will strike someone at any age,” Tam said.

Canadian officials have been criticized for not testing more people, but Tam said the government is working on making quicker tests available. Currently, the groups being prioritized for outbreaks, cluster detection, healthcare workers and highly vulnerable communities.

READ MORE: As 240K apply for emergency benefit, Trudeau says aid coming for Canadians left behind


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