Canada’s health authorities recently added wearing cloth face masks to their list of recommendations to help slow the spread of COVID-19. The new recommendation has a lot of Canadians asking questions about masks, like when should I wear one, what’s the best kind, and where do I get masks?
Devon + Lang’s reusable cloth masks have 3 layers of filtration. 2 layers of anti-microbial silver infused modal fibre and a replaceable carbon filter, our mask will help filter particles from the air you breathe in, and reduce the spread of particles you breathe out. They are still filtering 86% of the particles in the air, but doing so with an even more comfortable fabric.
The masks are only available in black, but there are 3 sizes to choose from – small, medium and large. The masks are $15, and Devon + Lang is donating 20% of their mask profits to The COVID-19 Community Response Fund.
This reusable mask from Avida is simple, basic, and at $5 per mask, it’s one of the most affordable cloth masks on the market. It’s made of 2 layers of a polyester-cotton blend, comes in a few basic colours or in a patterned material, and is completely machine washable. It also has an opening where you can insert a disposable filter.
Masks with the best style/construction: Vistaprint
Vistaprint masks are comfortable, high-quality, made to last, and available for the whole family. The outer layer is a polyester and spandex blend, while the inner layer is pure cotton. Design features that make these masks so desirable are the replaceable filter pocket, the bendable nose bridge, the 3D chin design, and the adjustable strap. Each mask costs $25.
FashionbyYoshi is a family-owned clothing manufacturer in Vancouver that started making masks instead of clothes for the pandemic. They have beautiful printed masks that sell for $14.99 a piece, but you can also buy bulk quantities in units of 100 to 1,000 for $10 each. The masks are double layered and made from a soft, comfortable, stretchy fabric, and they can be reused after machine washing.
72Hours is selling bulk disposable non-surgical masks for $39.99 per box of 50 masks. The masks are 3-ply polypropylene, and are designed to be lightweight and breathable. They have a bendable nose bar, and attach to your head with elastic ear loops.
Toronto-based fashion designer Hayley Elsaesser is making fun and creative masks for $25. They’re available in a wide array of kooky patterns, including scorpions, bananas, bugs, cartoon mouths, eyes, and more. The masks are made from a quilted Jersey knit, and 20% of mask sales is being donated to the Food Banks Canada COVID-19 Response Fund.
Peace Collective masks for kids are handmade in Toronto. You get 2 for $30, and they’re available in black or maroon. The 2-layer masks are made from 100% cotton, and they have a nose wire to help ensure a snug fit, plus soft elastic ear loops that minimize discomfort. For every pair of masks they sell, Peace Collective donates a mask to a frontline worker.
BYOM’s masks are machine washable and feature a wide variety of designs to choose from – many from Canadian artists such as the Jelly Bean Hill by Darlene Kulig (above) which features the warmth and beauty of the landscape in The Battery, St. John’s.
The stitching of the mask is secure and feels sturdy and the inner polypropylene layer is comfortable to wear against your face. The ear bands are elasticated and are of average thickness. The mask fits well, but as with many other options it does not have a nose wire which allows some of the air your breathe out to escape upwards. Update: They can add a nose wire for custom orders but it minimizes the number of times it can be machine washed.
There are lots of simple how-to guides circulating on the internet right now that you can use to make your own cloth face masks at home, including patterns and videos for sewn face masks. Here’s a quick tutorial about making a no-sew face mask in minutes using nothing more than a piece of fabric, an elastic band, and a pair of scissors:
To start, take a piece of fabric — such as an old T-shirt, pillow case, bandana, or cotton material — and cut it into a square that’s about 51 by 51 centimeters.
Fold the fabric in half to make a rectangle.
From there, fold down the top third of the fabric, and then fold up the bottom third to make a long strip of fabric.
Now, fold the left third of the fabric into the centre, followed by the right third of the fabric.
Take two elastics and secure one inside each fold to make ear loops.
Place the mask on your face (with the folded side touching your face), secure the elastics around your ears, and adjust the mask so it’s covering your nose, mouth, and chin.
What does the Public Health Agency of Canada recommend?
At the beginning of the outbreak, Canadians were told that it wasn’t necessary to wear a mask to flatten the curve, and that medical masks should be reserved for health care workers.
Part of that recommendation changed in early April as we learned more about the virus and how it spreads. Now, Dr. Theresa Tam, the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, suggests Canadians wear non-medical face masks when we go out in public.
The recommendation changed when it was discovered that infected individuals can transmit the virus when they’re asymptomatic, especially in the early stages of infection.
In fact, between 40 and 80% of transmission could be due to carriers who are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic. When that information came to light, the Public Health Agency of Canada changed its stance on face masks for the general public.
Do I have to wear a mask?
An increasing number of municipalities across Canada have passed mandatory mask by-laws which require masks to be worn while inside indoor public places. Check with your local government or public health agency to stay up-to-date. It doesn’t hurt to keep a spare mask in the car.
Wearing a mask isn’t mandated federally, but it is recommended — in conjunction with social distancing measures and good hygiene — to help slow the spread of the virus. This applies to anybody over the age of 2 who doesn’t have breathing difficulties.
You can wear a mask any time you’re out of the house, but it’s especially important when you’re around other people in a crowded place and can’t always maintain the recommended 2 metre distance between yourself and others. This includes when you:
Go grocery shopping
Shop at the pharmacy
Use public transportation
Visit retail stores
Pick up food from a restaurant
If you’re sick, you should also wear a mask at home when you’re around other people or around animals. If there’s a sick person in your home, you should wear a mask when you’re cleaning that person’s bedroom or bathroom.
How effective are non-medical cloth face masks?
Non-medical face masks aren’t as effective as surgical masks, and neither are as effective as N95 respirators. For one thing, cloth masks are all different in terms of material and construction, so they don’t all perform equally. They also don’t create a seal around your face, and aren’t designed to filter and block viruses and pathogens. Again, you wear a mask to protect those around you, not to prevent yourself from getting sick.
That being said, non-medical cloth masks are better than no mask. Cloth masks are a small but important piece of the puzzle in combatting the spread of COVID-19. If everybody maintains social distance, practices good hygiene, stays home when sick, and wears a face mask in public, then we have a much better chance of flattening the curve.
Some fabrics are better than others for cloth face masks, and you definitely want to avoid plastics and non-breathable materials. By contrast, good fabric choices include:
Stretchy synthetic fabrics
If you’re going to make your own cloth masks, you can even repurpose household items like pillowcases, T-shirts, tea towels, and scarves to make your masks.
How do face masks work?
The virus is spread through respiratory droplets. When an infected person exhales, coughs, sneezes, or even talks, they expel respiratory droplets that can be contaminated with the virus.
You can get sick when you come in contact with these droplets, by touching an infected surface, by coming into physical contact with an infected person, or by being too near an infected person who has coughed or sneezed.
Face masks help prevent the spread of the virus by preventing infected respiratory droplets from getting into the air or contaminating physical surfaces.
Will a face mask protect me from COVID-19?
Wearing a face mask will not protect you. Rather, it will prevent you from transmitting the virus to somebody else if you’re sick. You wear a mask to protect other people, and other people wear masks to protect you.
For example, if you’re in the grocery store with somebody who’s sick and they’re wearing a mask, that will help stop them from giving you the virus. Therefore, the more people who wear masks, the more we’ll slow the spread.
How do I use a face mask properly?
There are several different types of face masks out there, including disposable medical/surgical masks, respirators, and reusable cloth masks. This section will focus on the reusable cloth masks that public health officials are recommending for the general public.
What to look for in a face mask
There are lots of important things to consider when choosing a face mask. For one thing, the mask should have at least 2 layers of material, but should still be breathable and allow adequate airflow.
Durability is also important, and your mask should be strong enough to withstand washing, and should hold its shape after washing and drying.
Finally, some masks are affixed to your head with ear loops, while others use ties behind the head. Ones that tie can be fastened more snugly, but some people prefer the ear loops because they’re more convenient. In the end, it’s important to get a mask that’s comfortable and that you’ll be willing to wear.
Fitting and putting on a face mask
A mask should be large enough to cover your mouth and nose, but not so large that it blocks your vision or gets in the way of activities. The mask should also fit securely, and there shouldn’t be gaps or spaces between the mask and your skin, especially under your chin or around your mouth and nose. Some masks have a copper band or wire ribbon around the nose area to ensure a snug fit.
Here are the steps for putting on a mask properly:
Wash your hands with soap and water, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds
Check the mask for holes
Place the mask over your mouth and nose
Pull the loops behind your ears, or tie the strings behind your head
Adjust the mask so it covers your mouth, nose, and chin
Once the mask is on, try not to touch it
Cleaning a face mask
You should clean your mask as soon as it becomes damp or dirty, or after you wear it out and return home. To remove the mask, don’t touch the mask itself. Instead, untie it or remove the ear loops and hold the mask by the ties or loops. If the mask has a disposable filter, remove it and throw it out before washing the mask.
The easiest way to wash your mask is to throw it in the washing machine with your other laundry. Make sure you use hot water and a strong detergent. Dry the mask in the dryer, or hang it to air dry.
To wash the mask by hand, mix 4 teaspoons of bleach with 1 litre of room temperature water. Soak the mask in the solution for 5 minutes before rinsing it with room temperature water.
Masks with and without filters
Some cloth face masks come with a special pocket where you can put a disposable filter to make the mask even more effective at trapping respiratory droplets and viruses. Here are some ideas of everyday household items you can use as disposable filters in your masks (make sure your filter doesn’t contain fiberglass):
Disposable coffee filters
Reusable polypropylene shopping bag cut into smaller pieces
Would a surgical mask be more effective?
Surgical masks are disposable, single-use, medical-grade personal protective equipment (PPE) made of a special polypropylene fabric. Like cloth masks, they cover the nose, mouth, and chin, but they don’t form a tight seal with your face. These masks can be very effective — more so than non-medical cloth masks — at protecting the wearer from liquid particles, and to provide some measure of filtration for pathogens and pollutants.
Their main purpose is to protect the wearer from contaminated liquids, including spray, splashes, and larger respiratory droplets. Like cloth masks, they also protect others from the respiratory droplets of the wearer. Also like cloth masks, you can still contract it when you’re wearing a surgical mask.
Surgical masks are in short supply right now, so they aren’t recommended for members of the general population. Instead, reserve them for healthcare workers, and cover your own face with a non-medical cloth mask.
Should I wear a respirator?
Respirators are the next step up in PPE. They are close-fitting, disposable face masks that protect the wearer from fluids and large respiratory droplets. Unlike surgical masks, however, respirators are made from tightly interlaced polypropylene fibres and form a seal with your face, so they’re much better at filtering pathogens and particulates.
Because respirators actually form a seal, they’re also more effective than surgical masks at preventing the spread of diseases. However, that also means they aren’t effective for people with facial hair or children, and you have to remove jewelry before wearing them.
Respirators also have to be fitted properly, because if they don’t form a proper seal, then they aren’t as effective. In medical settings, healthcare workers are fit-tested every year to make sure their masks are protecting them.
There are three types of respirators that are all designed to filter particles between 100 and 300 nanometres (0.1 to 0.3 microns) and they are:
N95, which filter 95% of particles
N99, which filter 99% of particles
N100, which filter 99.7% of particles
Respirators can make breathing harder, so they’re not recommended for people with medical conditions that cause breathing difficulties.
Respirators are a very important piece of PPE for healthcare workers, and because there’s a shortage of them right now, they should be reserved for healthcare workers.
As businesses and stores slowly start to reopen, it’s more important than ever that all Canadians do our part to flatten the curve. Although it wasn’t always part of our pandemic regimen, wearing a non-medical cloth face mask is now recommended for people going out in public and people who are sick at home.
It’s important to leave surgical masks and respirators for our hard-working healthcare workers, but there are plenty of options out there for non-medical face masks. Lots of people have friends and family who are making masks for people in the community, but there are also commercial options on the market, and plenty of online tutorials for making your own.
With everybody participating in social distancing, good hygiene, and masking, Canada can slow the transmission and safely and slowly get back to doing the things we love.