Masks

Each type of mask is designed for a specific purpose. Respirators such as N95 will protect against exposure to airborne particles, including viruses. Surgical masks are a barrier to spreading droplets and spit. Non-medical masks help limit the spread of droplets and spit when you sneeze or cough. 

At this point during the COVID-19 pandemic, many workplaces in Canada are starting to reopen. Some businesses, especially retail and food stores, have implemented safety rules and precautions that ask customers and staff to wear masks.

Types Of Masks

There are a number of different types of masks and respirators, and each type is designed for a specific purpose. Respirators such as N95 will protect against exposure to airborne particles, including viruses. Surgical masks are a barrier to spreading droplets and spit. Non-medical masks help limit the spread of droplets and spit when you sneeze or cough.

Cloth Masks Or Dust Masks

Non-medical or homemade face masks made using fabric can help prevent you from spreading your respiratory droplets to other people. Homemade masks should use at least two layers of tightly woven fabric. However, the fabrics used for these masks are not the same as materials used in certified respirators and do not necessarily filter viruses. Some homemade masks do include a sewn-in pocket to accommodate a paper towel or disposable coffee filter for increased benefit.

While cloth masks can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses, they are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE). Cloth masks are intended to be cleaned and reused, while surgical masks and disposable N95 respirators are not. Cloth masks are easy to obtain and simple to make at home. On the other hand, surgical masks and N95 respirators can’t be made at home and should be considered critical supplies, according to the CDC. 

Appropriate Use 

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;
  • 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 2 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 2 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.

Surgical Masks

Medical masks (including surgical and procedure masks) and respirators are considered essential for health care workers and those providing during care to COVID-19 patients. They help protect workers or slow the spread of the disease. Surgical masks are a barrier to spreading droplets, and spit.

Surgical masks (also called medical masks) are loose-fitting, disposable coverings for the nose and mouth. They are intended to be worn by healthcare workers. They are fluid resistant and protect the wearer against large droplets, splashes and sprays, according to the CDC. They also capture the wearer’s respiratory droplets, helping to protect patients against contamination. 

Surgical masks are not considered respiratory protection. According to the CDC, they don’t provide reliable protection from inhaling smaller airborne particles.

Medical masks fall into three levels of barrier protection, which are described as follows:

Level 1: low barrier protection

Level 2: moderate barrier protection

Level 3: maximum barrier protection

N95 Respirators

Respirators protect the wearer and those nearby from exposure to airborne particles, including viruses. N95 respirators are evaluated, tested, and certified by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) and are effective at filtering the virus. N95 respirators are typically disposable and are commonly referred to as filtering facepiece respirators.

Filtering facepiece N95 respirators offer more protection against airborne particles than surgical masks or cloth face covers, because they are intended to be tight-fitting and can filter both large and small particles, including aerosols.

N95 masks are tested and certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to ensure that the filtering facepiece can remove at least 95% of airborne particles.

N95 are intended to be tight-fitting. Normally, wearers must pass a fit test to confirm a proper seal before using one. Due to concerns about a shortage of fit-testing kits and test solutions, OSHA is encouraging employers to prioritize fit-testing for those who must use N95 respirators in high-hazard procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Some manufacturers offer surgical N95 filtering facepiece respirators, which are cleared by the FDA for fluid resistance and also tested and certified by NIOSH as a respirator.

N95 respirators are not to be worn by the general public as protection from COVID-19 per the CDC, to help optimize the supply for people respirators most.

When To Wear A Mask

Wearing a homemade non-medical mask or face covering in the community is recommended for periods of time when it is not possible to consistently maintain a 2-metre physical distance from others, particularly in crowded public settings.

Though some stores are requiring shoppers to wear a mask, this is not a law. Retailers can enforce this rule in the same way that they may require customers to wear shoes if they want service.  In short, the retailer can ask that a mask be worn in the store and may refuse service to a customer who refuses to wear a mask or has a reason for not being able to wear one.

For employers, determine if the use of masks or face coverings is appropriate and acceptable to your workplace, workers, or customers. Keep up to date on the latest recommendations from public health or other authorities when determining these measures.

It’s Your Mask

  • Do not share your non-medical masks with other people;
  • Do not re-use disposable masks (unless your workplace is using an approved method to safely re-process and sterilize them);
  • Wash and dry cloth non-medical masks between uses;
  • Do not wear a damaged mask. It will be not effective at blocking droplets and particles;
  • If you wear eyeglasses, make sure the flexible strip is secured tightly over the bridge of your nose. Clean your lenses with anti-fog eyeglasses spray cleaner;
  • Do not wear a wet or dirty mask. Wet masks will allow more air and small particles through than dry masks. A mask can become wet when you sweat, breathe, speak, shout, sing, sneeze, or cough. A mask can also become wet or soiled from airborne droplets from other people, touching dirty surfaces and then touching the mask, steam from cooking, the weather, or spray and dust from work processes. Wet contaminants such as bodily fluids can soak through a mask. Dirt and dust can also reduce the effectiveness of the mask or make it difficult to breathe.

All masks should be replaced or cleaned when they are wet, damaged, visibly dirty, contaminated (e.g., blood, respiratory fluids), or when breathing through it becomes difficult.

Remember that wearing a mask alone will not prevent the spread of COVID-19. You must consistently and strictly follow good hygiene and public health measures, including frequent hand washing and physical (social) distancing, and stay home if you are sick. Do not touch your face, mouth, nose, or eyes.

Good Practices 

  • Learn how to properly put on and remove your mask. You can contact the virus when removing a soiled mask incorrectly. 
  • Masks that are not worn correctly will not provide adequate protection. Do not wear a mask under your nose. You will contaminate the outside of the mask when you exhale, and you will not be protected from the virus;
  • Do not wear a mask that is too loose or too large. Open gaps will not properly seal around your face;
  • Do not wear a mask inside-out; 
  • Do not share your non-medical masks with other people; 
  • Do not re-use disposable masks (unless your workplace is using an approved method to safely re-process and sterilize them);
  • Wash and dry cloth non-medical masks between uses; 
  • Do not wear a damaged mask. A damaged mask will be not effective at blocking droplets and particles;
  • Wet masks will allow more air and small particles through than dry masks. Dirt and dust can also reduce the effectiveness of the mask or make it difficult to breathe;
  • A mask can become wet when you sweat, breathe, speak, shout, sing, sneeze, or cough; 
  • A mask can become wet or soiled from airborne droplets from other people, touching dirty surfaces and then touching the mask, steam from cooking, the weather, or spray and dust from work processes;
  • Wet contaminants such as bodily fluids can soak through a mask and infect you; 
  • To prevent fogging of eyeglass, make sure the flexible strip is secured tightly over the bridge of your nose. Clean your lenses with anti-fog eyeglass spray cleaner. 

Putting The Mask On 

  • Wash your hands using soap and water if available, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer; 
  • Remove your mask from its package;
  • Inspect your mask. Do not use if it’s damaged, wet, dirty, or expired (if applicable);
  • Hold your mask facing the correct direction;
  • Flat accordion-style masks are often white on the inside and colored on the outside; 
  • Shaped (stiff or cup) masks are often a single colour. Concave (curving in) is the inside and convex (curving out) is the outside. Do not fold them inside out;
  • Handmade cloth non-medical masks may be shaped or have a decorative pattern on the outside surface. Make sure you can easily identify the two sides;
  • Secure your mask according to its style;
  • For masks with elastics that go around the ears: hook one ear loop around each ear; 
  • For masks with elastics that go over the head: pull the upper elastic over the top of the head and the lower elastic around the back of your head;
  • For masks with ties or straps: Tie the upper strap around the top of your head, then tie the lower strap around the back of your head;
  • Expand your mask fully so it completely covers your nose and mouth and there are no large gaps along the sides. You may need to pull the bottom edge under your chin; 
  • Pinch the bendable nose strip to fit the bridge of your nose without leaving gaps; 
  • Wash your hands again using soap and water if available, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 

When Wearing A Mask 

  • Do not touch the outside surface of your mask. Assume that it’s contaminated;
  • If you do touch your mask, wash or sanitize your hands;
  • Continue to practice physical distancing and good hygiene. Wearing a mask alone will not prevent the spread of COVID-19, but it can help;
  • Take precautions to keep your mask clean and effective. Protect it with a plastic face shield if you expect to be exposed to dirt or wet sources; 
  • If the mask becomes damaged, wet or dirty, replace it with a fresh one. 

Taking The Mask Off 

  • Wash your hands using soap and water if available, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer;
  • Do not touch the outside of your mask;
  • Loosen your mask according to its style; 
  • For masks with elastics that go around the ears: unhook both ear loops; 
  • For masks with elastics that go over the head: pull the bottom elastic strap, then pull the top elastic strap over the head;
  • For masks with ties or straps: undo the bottom strap, then the upper strap; 
  • Lean forward and remove your mask;
  • Throw away single-use masks in a lined garbage can. Place home-made cloth non-medical masks in the laundry and wash before re-using;
  • Wash your hands using soap and water if available, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

SOURCE:

Government of Canada, Public Health
CDC
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, Health and Safety

 

 

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