PPE, which can include anything from medical masks to homemade face coverings and disposable gloves, is a crucial line of defense against the deadly COVID-19 disease.
It is highly recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) that you wear a mask when you leave the house if you’re not going to be able to practice good physical distancing — keeping two metres away from others.
People who don’t have symptoms can wear non-medical masks when in public as “an additional measure” to protect other people, Canada’s chief medical officer Dr. Theresa Tam said in early April.
In fact, many businesses in Canada have started to require masks, including salons, grocery stores and airlines. Some companies even require the use of gloves, too.
Below, a list of the most current PPE advice from medical professionals, health experts and public health officials.
Medical, homemade masks
There are two kinds of medical-grade masks.
The first is a surgical mask, which is a disposable, loose-fitting mask that covers your nose mouth and chin.
The second is an N95 respirator, which is a tight-fitting face mask that can filter the air particles breathed through it, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
That’s true of both medical masks (surgical masks and N95 masks), as well as non-medical masks made at home.
A “non-medical mask,” according to Tam, is one made at home with material from cotton shirts, sheets or bandannas, and connected to one’s ears by elastic bands or ties.
While wearing a mask, public health officials say it’s crucial that you don’t touch your face. This can counteract any benefits the mask may have.
Non-medical face masks or face coverings should:
- allow for easy breathing
- fit securely to the head with ties or ear loops
- maintain their shape after washing and drying
- be changed as soon as possible if damp or dirty
- be comfortable and not require frequent adjustment
- be made of at least two layers of tightly-woven material fabric (such as cotton or linen)
- be large enough to completely and comfortably cover the nose and mouth without gaping
Non-medical masks or face coverings should not:
- be shared with others
- impair vision or interfere with tasks
- be placed on children under the age of two years
- be made of plastic or other non-breathable materials
- be secured with tape or other inappropriate materials
- be made exclusively of materials that easily fall apart, such as tissues
- be placed on anyone unable to remove them without assistance or anyone who has trouble breathing
Some homemade masks also include a pocket to accommodate a paper towel or disposable coffee filter, for increased benefit.
Whether you use a medical or homemade face mask, you need to ensure you’re taking it off and putting it back on safely, said Dasantila Golemi-Kotra, a professor of molecular, cellular and chemical biology of microbial infections at York University in Toronto.
You could expose yourself to more contaminants if you don’t take it off or put it back on properly.
“It’s impractical … (and) if you take it off to put it on the table, but the table isn’t clean, you (can) run into contamination,” Golemi-Kotra previously told Global News.
When you want to remove your mask, do so carefully and avoid touching your face. Consider wrapping the mask in a paper towel or putting it into a plastic bag to keep it away from other contaminants.
Disposing of your mask safely is also crucial.
This means finding a closed garbage can marked with a sign specifically for PPE, which most public places like restaurants, stores and hotel lobbies should all have, moving forward.
Children under two years of age and anyone who has trouble breathing or is unable to remove a mask without assistance should not wear a mask, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Plastic face shields are typically used in medical settings to protect health-care workers but are now being used in schools, restaurants and grocery stores in both Canada and abroad to help curb the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Plastic face shields cover the eyes, nose and mouth — all areas where the novel coronavirus can enter the body.
Droplets, expelled by sneezing or coughing, transmit the virus, meaning it’s important those areas are covered from both a spreading and exposure perspective.
In a recent opinion article published in the medical journal JAMA, three doctors out of Iowa argued that plastic face shields should be added to community COVID-19 prevention measures alongside contract tracing, handwashing and social distancing.
“They are comfortable to wear, protect the portals of viral entry and reduce the potential for autoinoculation by preventing the wearer from touching their face,” the authors wrote.
“People wearing medical masks often have to remove them to communicate with others around them; this is not necessary with face shields.”
The doctors said the plastic coverings “should extend below the chin anteriorly, to the ears laterally, and there should be no exposed gap between the forehead and the shield’s headpiece.”
Disposable gloves are an essential line of defense for health-care providers during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the federal government.
“As a personal protective equipment (PPE), they help protect health-care providers by providing a barrier to help prevent potential exposure to infectious disease,” says the government website.
However, most public health agencies in Canada do not recommend the wearing of gloves by the general public.
“Gloves do not need to be worn by members of the general public during their daily activities, such as when grocery shopping,” said Alberta Health Services (AHS) in a previous statement to Global News.
“If not used and disposed of properly, wearing gloves may provide another surface for the virus to live on — potentially encouraging virus transmission.”
AHS recommends the following for those who choose to wear gloves in public:
- Hands should always be washed and/or sanitized prior to putting on gloves and after taking gloves off
- Gloves should be changed when they become soiled or torn
- Change gloves if you touch your face — eyes, nose or mouth — or cover a cough or sneeze with your hands while wearing gloves
- Disposable gloves should be thrown out and not used again once they have been taken off
- Reusable gloves must be cleaned and disinfected after each use
Disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer
According to Health Canada, washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
However, both products need a high enough alcohol content — at least 60 per cent or more — in order to effectively kill the virus.
Baby wipes are not an effective alternative for disinfectant wipes.
Most baby wipes sold in stores do contain alcohol — the central germ-killing ingredient — but at a much lower percentage than what is required to kill the novel coronavirus.
“We know what kills COVID-19 is an alcohol solution that is 60 per cent or more alcohol,” Kulik previously told Global News. “(Baby) wipes absolutely don’t have that much alcohol.”
This is because baby wipes are intended for use on sensitive baby skin. Using a product with that much alcohol would cause “significant rashes and potentially even burning of the skin,” Kulik said.
“(Baby wipes) have as little (alcohol) as needed to gently cleanse the skin, but they’re not sterilizing.”
Homemade hand sanitizer isn’t really ideal, either.
According to Dr. Alon Vaisman, a resident in the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto and an expert in infection control, DIY hand sanitizer may be an effective way to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus if it’s made correctly, but it’s not foolproof.
“In the right hands, done with a great deal of caution, it may be helpful,” he previously told Global News. “But people might not do it effectively. People might not know what they’re doing and make concoctions that aren’t effective … and might be costly to them.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.
In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
— With files from Laura Hensley & Erica AliniFollow @meghancollie