COVID-19: Should I wear a mask and when?

Even before the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic no longer a “public health emergency of international concern” on Friday, many Canadians were giving up on wearing face masks. when mandatory regulations are lifted in most public places.

Dr Allison McGeer, infectious disease specialist and microbiologist at Sinai Health System in Toronto, said although WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that Friday’s statement “does not mean COVID” -19 is over,” but many will probably interpret it that way.

“Honestly, at least in Canada, most of the behavior has reflected the view of most people that the pandemic is over,” McGeer said.

However, infectious disease experts are hoping mask-wearing, which has emerged in the country as a response to the pandemic, will continue at certain times and in certain places. to help reduce the spread of not only COVID-19, but influenza and respiratory syncytial disease. so does the virus (RSV).

Although most regulations on mask wearing have been lifted, some major hospitals continue to require masks in patient care facilities, which makes sense for Dr. Lynora Saxinger , an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

“In the ‘before’ days, which I think most of us can barely remember now, you would zoom across the hospital all over the place and people would have all kinds of symptoms,” says Saxinger.

“You’re going to meet someone because they might have pneumonia, they cough and you just walk into the room… So I think there’s been a marked shift in the level of willingness and initiative to use masks. (in healthcare). ),” she said.

Dr Fatima Kakkar, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at CHU Sainte-Justine in Montreal, said she also intends to wear a mask when meeting patients.

Wearing a mask, she said, not only helps protect healthcare workers, but also helps prevent the spread of the virus to “other very weak patients” in the hospital.

“I really can’t imagine seeing my patients without a mask on,” Kakkar said.

Wearing a mask can be a “positive legacy” of the pandemic, she said.

“I hope in some sense it normalizes mask wearing in these high-risk places because, you know, it just becomes a reflex. You’re going to meet a cancer patient. high-risk cancer, you’re going to have a high-risk infant.” It makes sense that you want to protect them.”

Long-term care facilities and other crowded facilities — such as group homes — are other “obvious” places where mask wearing should be considered to protect vulnerable people. vulnerable, especially at times when there is a lot of COVID-19 or flu outbreaks circulating in the facility. community, McGeer said.

“I think many people involved in long-term care would be willing to wear masks if they didn’t have to have an outbreak,” she said.

But whether masks continue to be widely used in hospitals and nursing homes “(partially) depends on what happens with COVID in the future,” including whether it becomes a problem. into a predominantly seasonal virus, McGeer said.

Saxinger says it’s important to assess each situation in hospitals and other healthcare settings. For example, she may not wear a mask while walking down a hospital corridor, but may consider wearing a mask when approaching an elderly patient.

If an elderly patient has trouble hearing her say, “Then I can take off the mask so they can understand me,” she says.

Outside of healthcare settings, doing that kind of risk assessment can help the public decide whether or not to wear a mask under certain circumstances, infectious disease experts say.

McGeer said people who are “immunocompromised and clearly at greater risk if they catch something” may decide to continue wearing a mask to protect themselves.

“I still encourage the older people in my life… that if they are on a plane or are going to be in high-risk places, wear a mask,” Kakkar said.

In addition to protecting themselves, people can also assess their risk to others, she said.

“The best rule of thumb is that if you’re sick, you should stay home… but that’s not always possible,” says Kakkar.

In those cases, the next best thing is to wear a mask when going out, she said. “I really think if we can normalize that, it will help mitigate the spread.”

“In the end, there’s quite a bit of common ground” in deciding when and where to wear a mask, says Saxinger.

“Do I still wear a mask at the grocery store? If I don’t have symptoms and I don’t have a cold or anything and I’m in a grocery store that’s almost empty because I always come in and go in. odd hours, not necessarily,” she said.

“Have I been exposed to a lot of sick people lately in any way that seems to be a higher risk? And then if I walk in and it happens to be seniors’ evening or something like that at the grocery store? I can choose to wear a mask.”

It’s important for governments and public health agencies, Saxinger said, to make sure people have access to information, such as whether there is a high level of virus transmission in the community “so that they make those decisions as they go.”

While McGeer would like to see public health measures like wearing masks when necessary and better hand washing continue, she “doesn’t expect that many things will remain a legacy of COVID”.

“The problem with pandemics is that the desire to leave them behind is so strong that it’s really hard for us to hold on to anything,” she said.

With files from The Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 6, 2023.

The Canadian Press health insurance is supported through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. CP is solely responsible for this content.


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