British Columbia

Northern B.C. doctors urge residents to wear masks

Doctors in Prince Rupert are "strongly encouraging" residents to wear homemade cloth masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in a city with just two ventilators.

19 North Coast physicians sign open letter strongly encouraging residents to cover their faces in public

Doctors in Prince Rupert are urging local people to wear homemade cloth masks. (Jorge Cabrera/Reuters)

Doctors in Prince Rupert are urging residents to don homemade, fabric face masks to prevent the spread of COVID in a community with just two ventilators.

Nineteen North Coast physicians signed an open letter that  "strongly encourages" residents to cover their face with cloth whenever they go out in public, in order to protect others from their respiratory droplets.

"The mask is to protect somebody from you, not the other way around," Dr. Johannes Piek, a GP anesthetist at the Prince Rupert Hospital, told CBC News. "Out of respect, wear a mask to protect everyone around you. It might make a difference."

The medical advice from the northern doctors was issued late last week, several days before Canada''s top doctor softened her opposition to the public use of masks.

Now, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, says that wearing a non-medical mask can help stop the spread of COVID-19, when used with other measures like handwashing and distancing. 

Health officials shift policy on masks

That  represents an about-face for the public health officer — who until now had resisted the idea of non-health care professionals wearing masks. 

British Columbia's provincial health officer stopped short of a blanket recommendation but conceded non-medical use of masks for those who aren't sick might be useful in certain situations, like in a grocery store or on public transit where it's difficult to practise physical distancing.

A community effort is underway in Prince Rupert to produce fabric masks for local use, like this one worn by Whitehorse resident Sydney Wolf. (Submitted by Sydney Wolf)

Doctors in Prince Rupert say health officials should be encouraging Canadians to wear masks. They say their recommendation follows the lead of Asian countries where people wear masks and infections have slowed.

"My mask protects you. Your mask protects me," said the physicians in their statement.

'My mask protects you'

For weeks, the Prince Rupert doctors  have been advocating for tougher local measures to prevent COVID-19. They say an outbreak in their community could be a disaster.

 "We have only two functioning ventilators in the hospital and ... it is impossible to underestimate the enormity of a potential major outbreak.," Piek  said last month. 

Meanwhile, a community effort is underway in Prince Rupert to produce fabric masks for local use. Medical professionals have vetted the design and the hospital is sanitizing the fabric. 

With files from Daybreak North

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