• Connexions
  • 2020-08-18
  • 1657

If you are healthy, wearing a non-medical mask or face covering is a matter of personal choice and it might help you to protect others. However any mask, no matter how good it is at catching respiratory droplets or how well it seals, will have minimal effect if it is not used together with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand washing and physical distancing.

Non-medical masks are not Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and cannot be considered as part of workplace safety planning.

UBC employees are welcome to use non-medical masks while at work, provided:

  • They do not prevent individuals from carrying out their duties in a safe way
  • Other safety measures, e.g. physical distancing and frequent hand washing are maintained

Departments or units that choose to provide non-medical masks, or face coverings, to students, faculty or staff must inform the recipients of the risks and limitations associated with their use.

Public health guidance around the use of non-medical masks

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has recommended wearing homemade non-medical masks or face coverings in the community when it is not possible to consistently maintain a two-metre physical distance from others, particularly in crowded public settings. However, PHAC has indicated local public health officials should make their own recommendations based on a number of factors, including the rates of COVID-19 infection and transmission in their community, so recommendations may vary from location to location.‎

The Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) region, currently has very low rates of community transmission of COVID-19 and has managed to flatten the curve better than many other jurisdictions in Canada. Because of that, guidance from VCH is that members of the public may choose to wear a non-medical mask when in public, but we are not recommending it.

Non-medical masks in the workplace

According to Vancouver Coastal Health guidance, wearing a mask in the workplace is not recommended or necessary. Workplaces in B.C., including at UBC, are developing COVID-19 safety plans which include a number of measures in place to prevent transmission. WorkSafeBC suggests the use of non-medical masks only if all other protective measures have been taken and found to be not sufficient. Even then, WorkSafeBC says masks offer only limited protection. However, you may be required to wear a mask in your workplace depending on the nature of your employment. If you are unsure, consult with your manager or visit the WorkSafeBC website.‎

Limitations and risks of non-medical masks

  • Non-medical masks do not protect the person wearing them as they do not seal to the face and allows virus particles to pass through them.
  • Do not offer complete protection for others if the wearer is ill, as only the largest droplets are captured, and are not a substitute for physical distancing.
  • Wearing a mask can provide a false sense of security, leading to decreased attention to physical distance and hand washing.
  • Self-contamination occurs when touching and reusing contaminated masks. Frequent changing/laundering and proper donning/doffing is required.
  • Have potential to cause breathing difficulties, and can be dangerous to wearer with underlying health conditions


Cleaning non-medical masks

Homemade or cloth masks should be cleaned and changed often:

  • To clean a homemade cloth mask, wash it using the directions on the original material (for example, if the mask was made from t-shirt material, follow the washing instructions on the t-shirt tag) but in general, warmer water is better.  Dry the mask completely (in the dryer using a warm/hot setting if possible).
  • Do not shake dirty masks to minimize spreading germs and particles through the air. If dirty cloth masks have been in contact with someone who is sick they can still be washed with other people’s laundry.
  • Any damage, fabric break down, or change in fit will reduce the already limited protection of cloth masks.

More information about masks can be found on the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control website.

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