One mask or two? As other countries explore new options, Canada sticks to its COVID-19 advice

While several countries are revising their mask advice either to ditch cloth masks or recommend doubling up as more virulent variants spread, Canada is sticking to its previous recommendations. The United States’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, said in an interview with NBC Monday that wearing two masks “just makes common sense,” as adding another layer of protection will help prevent COVID-19 from spreading.Photos captured in the last two weeks in the U.S. show Fauci along with public figures like U.S. First Lady Jill Biden and youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman also sporting a double mask by wearing a surgical mask under their cloth masks. In Europe, countries including Austria and France announced this month that cloth masks are out and medical-grade or surgical masks are more ideal for their entire population. Last week Germany made medical masks mandatory on public transit and in stores. Officials said that as new variants emerge, medical masks offer greater protection.Despite those recommendations, the Public Health Agency of Canada says it is going with its previous advice of using non-medical masks with an additional third filter layer, which it first endorsed in November. The three-layer, non-medical masks that PHAC recommends should have two layers made up of tightly woven material fabric, such as cotton or linen, and the middle layer should be a “filter type” fabric like non-woven polypropylene, its website states. When asked if the agency would recommend wearing two masks — a non-medical cloth mask, with a surgical mask underneath — the agency said its suggestions differ from the U.S., but it will continue to monitor and adapt their guidance if more evidence emerges. “PHAC is aware of the recent comments by Dr. Fauci in the media on double masking,” the agency said. “It is important to recognize that Canada’s context is different from that of the U.S.” When asked how the U.S. differs, PHAC did not respond in time for an afternoon deadline. Ontario’s health ministry and Toronto Public Health said they follow mask guidelines outlined by the PHAC. In an email to the Star, Dr. Vinita Dubey, Toronto’s associate medical officer of health, said if a cloth mask only has one layer, wearing two could provide additional protection. But she warns that wearing two masks could be uncomfortable, which could discourage the wearer, making a three-layered mask a better choice.In light of the availability of medical-grade masks like the N95, the general advice is the more layers you have, the better that masks is in preventing transmission, said Dr. Gerald Evans, the chair of the division of infectious diseases at Queen’s University. “If people have in their possession a three-layer mask that is properly constructed … and is in good condition, and kept clean and readily usable, in my mind that’s perfectly acceptable,” he said. If you only have a double-layer cloth mask and you can double it up with a basic medical mask, that will also add protection, he said. “Double masking, with a moderate medical mask, that’s acceptable as well. I can’t propose N95s for the general public,” he said, adding that N95-level masks are meant for settings like long-term care or hospitals and are in short supply.Concerns about several new, more infectious variants of COVID-19 circling the globe and cropping up in the U.S. and Canada make enhancing personal protection all the more important, said Evans.Ontario is monitoring three variants of COVID-19 first found in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil. Those variants contain mutations that make the virus more infectious and can potentially impact those who have been previously infected or vaccinated, although research is ongoing.Several residents who tested positive for COVID-19 due to the massive outbreak at the Roberta Place nursing home in Barrie have also tested positive for the B.1.1.7 variant discovered in the U.K., the public health unit said on the weekend. At least 46 people have died due to the outbreak, the health unit reported this week.While more than 47,000 long-term-care residents in Ontario have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, there are still over 20,000 awaiting doses, the province told reporters this week. Masks are a crucial method of protection as long-term-care outbreaks continue, as the vaccines are rolled out. Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University Toronto, says any additional steps that can be taken as the new variants spread is crucial. With N95 masks in short supply and are not meant for the general public, it’s easy enough to add a filter to a mask or to simply double-mask, she said. “I think for a lot of people, it’s probably easier to double up than to change their mask or buy a whole new set of masks,” she said. With files from Kate Allen, Rob Ferguson and the Associated Press.Olivia Bowden is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Reach her via email:

One mask or two? As other countries explore new options, Canada sticks to its COVID-19 advice

While several countries are revising their mask advice either to ditch cloth masks or recommend doubling up as more virulent variants spread, Canada is sticking to its previous recommendations.

The United States’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, said in an interview with NBC Monday that wearing two masks “just makes common sense,” as adding another layer of protection will help prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

Photos captured in the last two weeks in the U.S. show Fauci along with public figures like U.S. First Lady Jill Biden and youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman also sporting a double mask by wearing a surgical mask under their cloth masks.

In Europe, countries including Austria and France announced this month that cloth masks are out and medical-grade or surgical masks are more ideal for their entire population. Last week Germany made medical masks mandatory on public transit and in stores. Officials said that as new variants emerge, medical masks offer greater protection.

Despite those recommendations, the Public Health Agency of Canada says it is going with its previous advice of using non-medical masks with an additional third filter layer, which it first endorsed in November.

The three-layer, non-medical masks that PHAC recommends should have two layers made up of tightly woven material fabric, such as cotton or linen, and the middle layer should be a “filter type” fabric like non-woven polypropylene, its website states.

When asked if the agency would recommend wearing two masks — a non-medical cloth mask, with a surgical mask underneath — the agency said its suggestions differ from the U.S., but it will continue to monitor and adapt their guidance if more evidence emerges.

“PHAC is aware of the recent comments by Dr. Fauci in the media on double masking,” the agency said. “It is important to recognize that Canada’s context is different from that of the U.S.” When asked how the U.S. differs, PHAC did not respond in time for an afternoon deadline.

Ontario’s health ministry and Toronto Public Health said they follow mask guidelines outlined by the PHAC.

In an email to the Star, Dr. Vinita Dubey, Toronto’s associate medical officer of health, said if a cloth mask only has one layer, wearing two could provide additional protection.

But she warns that wearing two masks could be uncomfortable, which could discourage the wearer, making a three-layered mask a better choice.

In light of the availability of medical-grade masks like the N95, the general advice is the more layers you have, the better that masks is in preventing transmission, said Dr. Gerald Evans, the chair of the division of infectious diseases at Queen’s University.

“If people have in their possession a three-layer mask that is properly constructed … and is in good condition, and kept clean and readily usable, in my mind that’s perfectly acceptable,” he said.

If you only have a double-layer cloth mask and you can double it up with a basic medical mask, that will also add protection, he said.

“Double masking, with a moderate medical mask, that’s acceptable as well. I can’t propose N95s for the general public,” he said, adding that N95-level masks are meant for settings like long-term care or hospitals and are in short supply.

Concerns about several new, more infectious variants of COVID-19 circling the globe and cropping up in the U.S. and Canada make enhancing personal protection all the more important, said Evans.

Ontario is monitoring three variants of COVID-19 first found in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil. Those variants contain mutations that make the virus more infectious and can potentially impact those who have been previously infected or vaccinated, although research is ongoing.

Several residents who tested positive for COVID-19 due to the massive outbreak at the Roberta Place nursing home in Barrie have also tested positive for the B.1.1.7 variant discovered in the U.K., the public health unit said on the weekend. At least 46 people have died due to the outbreak, the health unit reported this week.

While more than 47,000 long-term-care residents in Ontario have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, there are still over 20,000 awaiting doses, the province told reporters this week. Masks are a crucial method of protection as long-term-care outbreaks continue, as the vaccines are rolled out.

Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University Toronto, says any additional steps that can be taken as the new variants spread is crucial.

With N95 masks in short supply and are not meant for the general public, it’s easy enough to add a filter to a mask or to simply double-mask, she said.

“I think for a lot of people, it’s probably easier to double up than to change their mask or buy a whole new set of masks,” she said.

With files from Kate Allen, Rob Ferguson and the Associated Press.

Olivia Bowden is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Reach her via email: obowden@thestar.ca

Source : Toronto Star More