Q and A with the experts: What’s the deal with masks now?

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

You could be forgiven for not knowing where, exactly, we are with guidance on whether to wear a mask in public or not.

To explain the current recommendation from Public Health, Narveen Jandu of the School of Public Health and Health Systems answers our questions.

Narveen Jandu

What is the current recommendation from Public Health about face masks?

The updated public health guidelines now recommend wearing a face-covering during this COVID-19 pandemic. This recommendation provides another layer (literally and physically) of prevention on top of the initial infection prevention and control strategies, which include: staying at home, physical distancing and hand-washing. Face coverings are now recommended for use in the community setting where physical distancing is challenging, such as in a grocery store or on public transit. 

What kind of mask should we be wearing?

An ideal face covering would have the following characteristics: breathable, large enough to cover mouth and nose, good fit around mouth and nose, easy to put on and take off, secure and durable, soft and comfortable, at least two layers of material, maintains shape and integrity when wearing, maintains shape and integrity during cleansing, low cost, low maintenance, washable and reusable with little to no waste. Ideally, the face covering also has directionality with an inside (the side that touches the mouth and nose) and an outside.

Is there a right way to use a mask? 

A few steps to keep in mind when using a face-covering: Attaching: (1) be sure to wash hands with soap and water before handling the face-covering; (2) use the loops or ties to handle the face-covering; (3) secure the loops or ties around your ears or behind your head; Removing: (1) wash hands with soap and water; (2) use the loops or ties to remove the face covering; (3) fold inwards and set aside to be washed. It can be placed in a plastic bag after use and before washing. Washing with soap and water, just as washing hands with soap and water, is sufficient.

What should you consider when choosing or making a mask?

Face coverings should not impair or compromise breathing, should not fall apart during wear or during washing, should not be made using hard rigid unbreathable materials, should not be shared, should not be carelessly tossed in pockets or personal bags. Face coverings are not recommended for children under two years of age. Caution should still be used with children, the elderly, anyone with underlying respiratory or other health issues. The purpose of the face-covering should be clearly explained and all individuals should be able to attach and remove the face covering on their own without any assistance.

Stay up to date with the University of Waterloo's guidance on wearing masks.