Should I be wearing a mask outdoors?
It depends on the circumstances. Federal public health officials recommend wearing a non-medical mask or face covering when:
- You’re in public and you might come into close contact with others.
- You’re in shared indoor spaces with people from outside your immediate household.
- Advised by your local public health authority.
So if your circumstances meet any of these conditions — whether indoors or out — you should probably be wearing a mask.
However, if you’re doing something like walking in a quiet neighbourhood then the risk of transmission is very low, said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University.
If you are going in and out of stores, or getting on and off transit while doing errands, it is best to just keep your mask on the whole time, to minimize touching it and potential contamination, Chagla advised in December.
And If you’re interacting with others outside you should wear your mask, while also staying two-metres apart, Chagla said.
More recently, Chagla called three-layer, non-medical masks a good “minimum standard.” He suggested Canadians should opt for masks that offer better protection whenever possible.
The rapid spread of more contagious coronavirus variants across the country has led people in some hard-hit regions to question whether national public health guidelines go far enough to protect Canadians.
The concern is that people could be at risk of getting the virus from very little exposure to it.
Public Health Ontario (PHO), an arm’s-length, provincial government agency, recently told health units across the province they should reduce their thresholds for classifying all COVID-19 exposures given the emergence of variants.
If a person infected with COVID-19 and a contact are both wearing masks, but the contact isn’t wearing eye protection, PHO said they should be considered “high-risk” if they were within two metres for at least 15 minutes.
If neither of them is wearing a mask or eye protection — PHO said any amount of exposure time is risky, aside from briefly passing by each other.
In York Region, just north of Toronto, public health officials made headlines after releasing startling new information on individuals infected with the variant first identified in the United Kingdom.
Dr. Karim Kurji, the region’s medical officer of health, said the new variant spread despite people taking precautions.
“Some of these people who caught it were just doing essential visits and not for very much time, just a minute or two,” he said in a statement to CBC News.
As for mask-wearing tips, if you’re wearing a high-quality mask that fits well, then air will go through the material, rather than escaping out the sides. A properly fitted mask will expand and collapse with each breath.
B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry told CBC News there have been several cases of outdoor transmission between spectators “clustering and talking with each other” during soccer games and wedding receptions where people gathered under tents, but not from brief outdoor encounters.
However, Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, suggested that with infection rates climbing, residents in the capital should wear masks outdoors at all times.
“People should wear masks when they’re outside of their house as much as possible,” Etches said in a recent CBC Radio interview. “It’s an added barrier. You don’t know if you’re going to come into close contact with someone or not.”
“Outdoors is much safer than indoors, but if you are right beside someone, you could breathe in their respiratory secretions,” she said. “We’re in a situation now where we need to have stronger protections.”