Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam speaks during a press conference on COVID-19 at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa, on Monday, March 16, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)

Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam speaks during a press conference on COVID-19 at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa, on Monday, March 16, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)

Non-medical masks now recommended when distancing not possible: Canada’s top doctor

Health officials had previously not recommended wearing them

  • May. 20, 2020 12:00 a.m.

The country’s chief medical officer is now recommending that non-medical masks be worn when physical distancing is not possible this spring and summer.

Dr. Theresa Tam unveiled the new advice Wednesday (May 20) in the perhaps final evolution of federal advice on non-medical masks.

“Use of non-medical masks is recommended as an added layer when physical distancing is not possible,” Tam said, although she noted that masks are not a replacement for distancing where possible, hand-washing and staying home when sick.

“Hand-washing is the best accessory for all venues and accessories.”

Tam defended her office’s messaging on masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Her position on masks has changed from saying the masks “can” help prevent transmission in early April to a firm recommendation today. South of the border, the U.S. Centre for Disease Control told Americans to wear masks in public on April 3.

“The earlier messaging was more permissive,” Tam said.

“It is an added layer of protection. It is for you to protect others.”

READ MORE: Wearing non-medical masks can stop spread of COVID-19 before symptoms start: Tam

Even last week, Tam told reporters that recommending masks for all is “easier said than done” and that making sure masks were even available for all has been a consideration in whether to make masks orders mandatory.

“We have to make sure people have access,” she said at the time.

Tam said Wednesday’s announcement was a recommendation, and not an order, because different provincial health officers must make decisions based on virus transmission in their jurisdiction.

As she was peppered with questions about her changing mask advice, Tam said the focus should be on the “here and now,” and that changing advice over the weeks and months was the right move for Canada.

As of Wednesday morning, Canada had more than 79,000 test positive cases of COVID-19 and 5,912 deaths. More than 1.3 million people have been tested for the virus, with about five per cent positive.


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