Q&A: Non-medical masks

I have cold, flu or COVID-like symptoms. Can I safely go into public places if I am wearing a mask?

It is most important that you do not go into public if you are sick, whether or not you are wearing a mask, even if it is medical grade. Stay home, unless you must attend a medical appointment or go for COVID-19 testing.

Under what circumstances am I required to wear a mask in public?

Outside of a health care setting or long-term care home, there are no requirements to wear a face mask in a public space. VCH Public Health advises businesses and organizations against mandating the use of masks for their customers, as there are more effective ways of preventing transmission and such requirements can be a barrier to access to vulnerable populations. Still, some retailers or personal care services such as hair salons, barbers, nail care etc., may have their own policies requiring customers to wear a mask while in their premises, even though it is not required by WorkSafeBC or public health officials. In those cases, they should provide customers with the mask.

I don’t work in a patient care setting but sometimes I do enter such areas. Should I wear my non-medical mask while visiting a patient care setting?

No, do not wear a non-medical mask in a patient care setting. Anyone entering a patient care setting must wear appropriate PPE. This will vary depending on the type of patient care being offered.

When should I consider wearing a non-medical face mask?

In public settings where it is difficult to keep a safe physical distance for an extended period of time, such as taking transit, you may consider the use of a cloth face mask or covering, but it is not required. Non-medical masks may prevent you from exposing others to your own droplets, but will not necessarily decrease your own risk of infection. Any non-medical mask will have minimal effect as a protective measure if it is not used together with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand washing and physical distancing, and could offer a false sense of security.

I work in a VCH office or other workplace where I do not have direct contact with patients, should I wear a non-medical face mask while on the job? What about in non-clinical areas such as staff rooms?

Wearing a mask in an office environment is not recommended or necessary when other infection prevention and control measures are in place. For Vancouver Coastal Health workplaces, Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) provides this guidance and safety plans are being created for each workplace in accordance to WorkSafeBC’s latest guidelines. Also keep in mind: Never wear a non-medical mask into a patient-care setting, and please don’t take medical masks home for your personal use. These masks are an essential part of PPE protocols and supplies are limited. 

When is it appropriate to wear a medical grade mask?

Medical masks such as surgical masks and N95 respirators should only be used by health-care workers in patient-care areas and, and by patients in health-care settings who are sick. Such masks are an appropriate part of infection prevention and control if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or are caring for a person with symptoms. The mask acts as a barrier to protect health-care staff and also helps stop droplets from spreading when you cough or sneeze.

Can I take medical masks home for my personal use?

VCH staff should never take medical masks for their personal use outside of a clinical setting. These masks are an essential part of PPE protocols and supplies are limited. 

Now I have a better understanding of the appropriate use of masks. What else can I do to prevent transmission of the COVID-19 virus?

The single best preventative measure against COVID-19 is to stay home from work if you are sick, and get tested if you have even mild symptoms suggestive of COVID-19. Also practicing excellent hand hygiene, including frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer. As well, it is extremely important that you avoid touching your face, sneeze or cough into your elbow, and practice physical distancing (at least two metres from other people when you are outside of your home or workplace).

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