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Non-Medical Masks and Face Coverings

Effective Saturday, October 3, 2020, the government of Ontario announced a provincial order mandating the use of face coverings in all public indoor settings across the province, such as businesses, facilities and workplaces, with limited exemptions. The use of a face covering does not replace the need for other public health measures such as physical distancing, frequent hand hygiene, and staying home if unwell.

Common Questions about Non-Medical Masks and Face Coverings

How does a face covering work?

Wearing a face covering helps to trap respiratory droplets which can spread COVID-19 and protects people who are around you. Your face covering must be secure and have a snug fit around your nose, mouth and chin.

How do I use a face covering properly?

Safely Putting ON a Face Covering

  1. Wash your hands*
  2. Put on the face covering, adjust it to face (cover nose and mouth)
  3. Avoid touching the inside of the face covering
  4. Do not share it with others
  5. If it gets slightly wet or dirty, change your face covering for a new one.

Safely Taking OFF a Face Covering

  1. Wash your hands*
  2. Place it into lined garbage bin (if disposable)
  3. Wash your hands again.

*Wash your hands before putting the mask on, before touching it or adjusting it, before taking it off and after taking it off.

Personal Protection Series: Non-Medical Masks

This video, in the Porcupine Health Unit Personal Protection series, shows how to put on and take off a face-covering.

What is the difference between a medical mask (surgical mask) and non-medical (cloth mask) mask?

Medical masks are one type of personal protective equipment (PPE) used with other types (e.g. face shield, gown, etc.) to protect the person wearing it from COVID-19 infection. Medical masks also protect others from exposure to COVID-19. Medical masks should only be worn once and then thrown away.

Non-medical masks (cloth/reusable or disposable masks) are not certified as medical grade and are worn to protect others around the person wearing the mask. Non-medical masks (3-layer or 2-layer) are not PPE and should not be used in situations where PPE is needed (e.g., healthcare).

What should I look for in a mask?

  • At least 2 layers of tightly woven material such as cotton or linen
  • If possible, use one with a third layer or filter
  • 2 different colours of material so you know which side goes outward
  • The more comfortable fabric should be on the inside, against the face
  • No seams over the mouth and nose (air may leak through)
  • Stay intact and maintain their shape after washing and drying
  • A good fit around your nose and mouth that is secured around the head with ties or ear loops
  • Note that a round elastic may fit more comfortably behind the ears than a wide, flat elastic

How should non-medical masks be made?

Non-medical masks should be made of at least 2 layers of closely woven fabric (e.g. cotton or linen), preferably have layers with different materials, and be tightly fitted to the face to create a good barrier to contain the respiratory droplets of the person wearing the mask.

A third layer/filter may provide some protection to the wearer of the mask by filtering the air being breathed in, however, extra layers may make it more difficult to breathe. 

  • Filters may be single-use and discarded after the mask is worn. These filters are inserted into a pocket between fabric layers. A tissue or paper towel are examples of suitable single-use filters.
  • There are also some filters which can be washed and reused. These reusable filters are inserted into a pocket between fabric layers or sewn into the mask. Reusable filters include those made of fabric, such as a third layer of cotton or linen, or a layer of non-woven polypropylene fabric (such as material used for crafting).

Material like plastic, dryer sheets, cleaning or disinfecting wipes or other materials containing chemical products may cause difficulty breathing, as well as respiratory or skin irritation.

Are three-layer masks better than two-layer masks?

The Public Health Agency of Canada and World Health Organization recommend using a three-layer non-medical mask.

In theory, a three-layer mask which includes a filter may offer more protection for the mask wearer compared to a two-layer masks.

When looking to get a new mask, a homemade or bought three-layer mask with a disposable or reusable filter may provide better filtration of droplets and aerosols compared to a two-layer mask.

All non-medical masks (3-layer or 2-layer) should be used in all public indoor spaces and whenever unable to stay physically distant from people outside the immediate household. To be effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19, all non-medical masks must be worn correctly each time:

  • Fit snugly and securely to head and face to completely cover the nose, mouth, and chin
  • Allow for easy breathing
  • Not have an exhalation valve
  • Fit comfortably to avoid needing to touch mask to adjust
  • Maintain shape after washing and drying

Should I throw away my two-layer masks?

It is most important that people continue to always wear non-medical masks and wear them correctly when unable to stay physically distance from those outside the immediate household and when in indoor spaces. Two-layer masks can continue to be used, there is no need to throw away two-layer masks that are still in good condition.

Does a three-layered mask provide the same level of protection as personal protection (PPE) equipment/medical mask?

Homemade or bought three-layer non-medical masks are not PPE no matter what the materials used are or the type of filter. Even when using a three-layer mask, people should still follow recommendations for physical distancing, hand washing, avoidance of crowded, closed space and close contacts outside the immediate household.

Those needing medical mask/surgical mask as PPE for work, should not use a non-medical mask.

What about my child?

Children can be symptomatic (showing symptoms) or asymptomatic (without symptoms) carriers of COVID-19. Children aged 2 years or older should wear a mask to protect those around them if it is difficult to maintain a distance of 2 metres.

Face coverings are not recommended for children under 2 years of age or wherever one cannot be worn safely. Once a mask is in place, children should not touch the mask, as doing so will increase their risk of contamination. If you believe your child can understand and follow the proper etiquette for wearing a face covering, encourage your child to wear one.

You can encourage your child by:

  • Talking with your child
    • Explain why they need to wear a face covering
    • Listen to their feelings and concerns
  • Choose a face covering with your child
    • If you are able to, include your child in selecting it
  • Include in play
    • Have a face covering available in their home environment so they can explore and play with them
  • Remember - You are the role model, so wear your face covering too.

Instructions on Do It Yourself masks

Follow this link for instructions on how to make a mask. You will find instructions for both a simple sewing or “no sew” version:

I am wearing a plastic face shield, is this okay?

When you wear a plastic shield, you do not have a snug fit around your nose, chin, and mouth. A face shield may provide extra precaution for the wearer against droplets from another person; however, these droplets can still be inhaled around the shield. Respiratory droplets from the wearer can also escape around the sides of the face shield, which provides less protection to others. If you choose to wear a face shield, you should do it in combination with a cloth mask.

Is a face shield a good alternative for someone who can’t wear a mask?

A face shield is not a substitute to wearing a mask or face covering. It does not filter respiratory droplets and does not have a snug fit around the nose, mouth and chin. However, the WHO, (World Health Organization) supports the use of face shields as a “better than nothing” solution to face masks. At a minimum, the face shield should cover the sides of the face and extend below the chin.

Where do you need to wear a face covering?

The mandatory face covering policy applies to indoor areas only and includes, but is not limited to, the following types of places:

  • convenience stores
  • retail establishments, shopping malls and shopping plazas
  • enclosed areas of grocery stores, bakeries and farmer’s markets
  • restaurants and bars
  • indoor recreational facilities, sports facilities, sports clubs, gyms, yoga studios, dance studios, and swimming pools
  • libraries
  • community centres
  • community service agencies
  • personal service settings (such as esthetics salons, spas, hair salons, barber shops and nail salons)
  • laundromats
  • churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and places of worship
  • art galleries, museums, aquariums and zoos
  • banquet halls, convention centres, arenas, stadiums and other event spaces
  • real estate facilities such as open houses, presentation centres
  • common areas in hotels, motels and short-term rentals (such as lobbies, elevators, meeting rooms, rest rooms, laundry rooms, gyms and kitchens
  • entertainment facilities including concert venues, theatres, cinemas and casinos
  • business offices open to the public
  • public transit
  • private transportation (e.g., taxis, limos, rideshares)

Additionally, the Ministry of Education has made masks mandatory within schools, day care centres, day camps and childcare agencies. Students in Grades 1-12 are required to wear a mask while indoors on school property, when physical distancing is not possible, and while riding on school buses. This includes during classes and in hallways. School personnel must also wear masks. Masks are encouraged, but not required for students JK-SK. Visit our webpage on COVID-19 and Schools for more information.

Where will face coverings not be required?

Currently, the mandatory mask requirement applies only to enclosed public spaces.

Certain services, where it is not possible to wear a face covering, such as at the dentist, will allow you to temporarily remove it while you are receiving those services. Other situations include:

  • When communicating with someone with hearing difficulties;
  • Actively engaging in an athletic or fitness activity including water-based activities;
  • Consuming food or drink;
  • While receiving services to areas of the face that would otherwise be covered by a face covering, when and where any such services are permitted under the regulations;
  • For any emergency or medical purpose.

What happens if I do not wear a face covering?

Fines of up to $750 can be given for violating public health measures including not wearing a face covering in public settings.

Do I need to show proof of exemption?

No one is required to provide proof of exemption from wearing a face covering. DO NOT ask for proof.

Who is exempt from wearing a face covering?

A face covering is not required for children under the age of two, those who are developmentally under the age of two or who cannot understand how to wear a face covering properly, individuals who have trouble breathing, people who are hearing impaired, those who are unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to put on or remove a face covering without assistance, and businesses not open to the public where employees can maintain physical distancing.

I have difficulty hearing and can’t understand when someone is wearing a mask?

There might be situation where temporary mask removal will be necessary. When someone is deaf or has difficulty hearing, employees may have to remove their mask. Follow safe handling procedure when removing your mask and keep a distance of 2 metres from others. Re-apply your mask when the situation is resolved.

Do we still need to stay 2 metres away from others if I am wearing a face covering?

Yes. Wearing a mask is not an alternative to all the public health measures that are currently in place; physical distancing, staying home if sick, washing your hands, cough and sneeze etiquette, not touching your face, and cleaning commonly touched surfaces. It remains important to follow the guides and signs in the store or building (like the arrows on the floor, the 2 metres stickers or lines on the floor) to maintain a 2-metre physical distance.

Is there any situation where we are allowed to remove our mask?

We recognize that wearing a cloth mask may not be possible in every situation. It can worsen a physical or mental health condition or introduce safety concerns:

  • When communicating with someone with hearing difficulties;
  • Actively engaging in an athletic or fitness activity including water-based activities;
  • Consuming food or drink;
  • While receiving services to areas of the face that would otherwise be covered by a face covering, when and where any such services are permitted under the regulations;
  • For any emergency or medical purpose.

* Ensure you wash your hands before and after removing your face covering.

Can I remove my mask when I get in my vehicle in between stores?

Cloth masks can be reused throughout the day if not soiled or damaged. Wash your hands, remove the mask from your face and fold it in half. Fold it so the outer surface faces inwards so the contaminated surface is does not touch anything during storage. Place your mask in a clean, closed bag until you are ready to use it again on the same day. Disposable masks should be discarded and not reused or re-washed.

Can I wear my cloth mask all day?

A mask can be worn all day if it does not become damp, damaged, or dirty. Do not place your mask in your pocket.

How should cloth masks be washed?

Reusable cloth masks should be washed after each use.

It is recommended to wash masks in a washing machine, using the warmest water temperature setting with regular laundry detergent, and dry masks completely in a dryer.

If a washing machine and dryer are not available, masks can be washed in a sink using hot, soapy water, and air drying completely. The sink should be cleaned and disinfected before and after washing the mask to avoid cross-contamination.

Reusable non-medical masks with a non-woven filter layer should be washed in the same way. Reusable masks with a disposable filter layer should have the filter removed before washing. Disposable filters should be changed daily or as instructed by the manufacturer.

Can non-medical masks be shared by different people after being washed?

Non-medical masks should not be shared even after washing. Masks should be labeled with a person’s name so that it will only be reused by the same person after washing and drying. If cloth masks cannot be assigned to one person to reuse, then single-use disposable masks are recommended.

What do I need to know about mask use outdoors?

  • Replace masks that become wet or frozen in cold weather.
  • Ensure access to multiple masks throughout the day and replace masks that become wet.
  • Where possible, maintain a physical distance of 2 metres, especially if someone must remove their mask while outdoors.
  • Do not use neck warmers or scarves in place of masks because they do not form a seal around the nose and mouth, and may not be made of the recommended material.

Myths about Masks and Face Coverings

Do face coverings cause CO2 poisoning?

No. The prolonged use of face coverings can be uncomfortable. However, it does not lead to CO2 intoxication. -Source: WHO

Do face coverings cause oxygen deficiency?

No. The prolonged use of face coverings can be uncomfortable. However, it does not lead to oxygen deficiency. -Source: WHO

Additional Resources

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