Canada’s chief public health officer says Canadians should wear a mask as an “added layer of protection” whenever physical distancing is not possible.
Dr. Theresa Tam provided the updated advice during her daily news conference in Ottawa today.
“For the spring and summer months, strict adherence to the public health basics of physical distancing, handwashing and cough etiquette must continue as the bare minimum,” she said.
“In addition, where COVID-19 activity is occurring, use of non-medical masks or face coverings is recommended as an added layer of protection when physical distancing is difficult to maintain. And staying home when sick is a must, always and everywhere.”
Tam said the new guideline comes as provinces begin to allow businesses and services to reopen, bringing more people out of their homes.
Asked if the recommendation should have come earlier in the pandemic emergency, Tam said public health advice has been evolving based on the science. That advice is also now responding to the fact that, with more provinces taking cautious steps toward reopening their economies, more Canadians are coming into closer proximity to one another in public.
“We need to flexibly change our measures as we get more information,” she said.
Tam said the advice coming from her office today is a “specific recommendation,” while the previous language was “more permissive.”
The position taken by Tam’s office at the start was that masks can protect others — so if someone is showing symptoms and needs to go out, they need to cover their face. As officials learned more about asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic carriers and their potential role in transmission, the advice on masks changed.
Asked if the federal government could issue a directive to make mask-wearing in public mandatory, Tam said it remains a recommendation at the national level — but provinces and communities could make their own decisions based on local conditions.
She also warned that wearing a mask won’t protect an individual from infection on its own, and stressed that physical distancing remains fundamental.