As masks are now optional in most public spaces, and Quebec has recently joined the rest of Canada to ease its rules, the mental gymnastics required to determine if masking is necessary may seem to be the most important in performing advanced differential calculus.
However, even as the rules on where masks are required change, some people may still wear them – as they did before the mandates came into force.
To help Canadians judge what is best for their own health and that of their loved ones, CBC News asked airborne particle research experts to consider when, where, and for whom masking is still recommended.
Will the mask work if I’m the only one wearing it?
A message from public health officials for most of the pandemic was that masks work best if everyone is wearing them.
But if you want to protect yourself in an internal public space where many people will be exposed, KN95 or higher provides good protection, according to mechanical engineering professor Steve Rogak of the University of British Columbia, KN95 or higher.
Vancouver-based Rogak studies all types of aerosols and tests the effectiveness of various mask materials during a pandemic.
“If you have an N95 mask … and you can tell that it doesn’t leak around the edge and it’s nice and comfortable, I’d say it’s very good protection.”
“It intends to capture well over 90 percent of the virus, possibly over 99 percent,” Rogak said.
Experts say that N95 particle face masks like the one seen here are extremely effective in protecting people from SARS-CoV-2 infection, as long as they fit snugly. (Tyson Koschik / CBC)
While the N95 is generally considered the gold standard for masks and is often used by healthcare professionals, the KN95 mask material is also very effective, Rogak said.
The KN95 is the Chinese equivalent of the N95, and Rogak said they capture about 90 percent of the virus particles, as long as they fit well.
Both Rogak and Parisa Ariya, director of Atmospheric and Interfacial Chemistry Laboratories at McGill University in Montreal, agreed that lifting the seats does not mean the virus is gone.
“We shouldn’t close our eyes and believe that everything is gone,” said Ariya, who studies the way airborne viruses spread and is a leading expert in bioaerosol transmission research.
She compared the virus particles to the computer software algorithm – even if you can’t see it with the naked eye, it still exists and works.
“Viruses are physical entities. Physical bodies. And the idea of the mask – that’s nothing new – prevents and reduces transmission. “
According to Steve Rogak, a professor of mechanical engineering who tested the effectiveness of various masks, a well-fitting KN95 mask like the one seen here should capture about 90 percent of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles. (CBC)
Who should consider wearing a mask?
Many public health agencies still recommend that Canadians wear masks in public spaces, especially those that are more likely to be severely affected by COVID-19.
In fact, current guidelines from the Canadian Public Health Agency say everyone is still cloaking.
“We recommend wearing a mask in public places,” reads the agency’s website.
“You should be comfortable wearing a mask, even if it is not required in your community or setting. It’s the right personal decision.
A man wears a medical mask while walking down Bloor Street East in Toronto on May 10, 2022. Most provincial public health authorities recommend that elderly people and those at higher risk of being severely affected by COVID-19 continue to wear masks. (Alex Lupul / CBC)
Most provincial public health authorities emphasize that older people should continue to wear masks, as well as those with certain medical conditions, and those who are pregnant or after giving birth. Alberta recommends that people who are at risk of severe sequelae wear medical masks, and Ontario’s chief health practitioner strongly recommends that everyone wear masks in public areas.
Quebec’s interim director of public health, Dr. Luc Boileau, recently said that anyone with symptoms of COVID, whether or not tested positive, should mask themselves as “you don’t need to be sure it’s COVID” to be careful .
Where should people consider wearing a mask?
In most provinces, masks are still required in healthcare facilities and other premises with vulnerable populations, such as long-term care homes. Some regions, including Alberta, Quebec, and Ontario, still require masks on public transport.
Ariya said that no matter what the rules are, she prefers to wear a mask indoors, especially if the space is crowded with strangers.
“When I take the subway, I wear a mask. Is it something I like to do? Absolutely not, especially in summer. But it’s about respect, ”she said.
“When you are more susceptible, you have a grandmother, mother or family [members] who are immunocompromised, I would wear one. I don’t think it’s too much for a loved one to do. “
Rogak agrees and said that he personally prefers to wear a well-fitting mask every time he is home with lots of strangers.
Masks are now optional on most indoor public spaces in Canada, such as the Toronto Eaton Center, pictured on March 24, 2022 (Evan Mitsui / CBC)
“I feel comfortable walking through a sparsely populated room with one or two people at the end – the chances of getting it are very slim,” he said.
“But if you’re going to be stuck in a crowded room for half an hour or an hour with five or six other people you don’t know, then I’m not comfortable [without a mask]”.
Rogak said that without mandatory restrictions, now Canadians should take responsibility for their choices.
To help people make informed decisions based on COVID-19 trends, the Canadian Public Health Agency recently launched a new online COVID-19 wastewater surveillance dashboard.
The tool aims to provide people with the data they need to make informed decisions in the future.
“The risk hasn’t changed overnight just because the mask mandate has disappeared,” Rogak said.
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CBC Marketplace has tested the KN95 and KF94 masks sold online and in supermarkets. Half of them did not provide an adequate level of protection.