Why leaving your nose hanging out of your mask could spread COVID and land you hefty fines

We've all seen them. Albertans who ignore public health recommendations and the law by wandering around indoor spaces like grocery stores with their noses hanging out above their masks, potentially spreading COVID-19 everywhere they go.

Rule-breakers could be fined $1,000 per ticketed offence and up to $100,000 through courts

Doctors say wearing your mask improperly, such as not covering your nose, has health impacts to those around you and to yourself. (Christine Boyd/CBC)

We've all seen them. Albertans who ignore public health recommendations and the law by wandering around indoor spaces like grocery stores with their noses hanging out above their masks, potentially spreading COVID-19 everywhere they go.

Some are blatant scofflaws who refuse to follow health laws set out to protect the public in a province that has had more active new cases, more total cases and the highest rate of infection of all provinces on many days in recent weeks.

Others may have "forgotten" to pull their masks up or think their noses don't need to be covered if their mouths are.

Either way, if your mask is slipping down or not covering your nose, you're putting yourself and others in danger, medical experts warn.

"Most people breathe through their nose and so that's what we're worried about … when you're breathing through your nose, that's where the viral particles are coming out of," said Dr. Tehseen Ladha, a pediatrician and assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the University of Alberta's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.

"It may be inconvenient to wear your mask, but it's an inconvenience that saves lives," said Ladha, who's also a member of the advocacy group Masks4Canada and has a master of public health.

Premier Jason Kenney announced on Dec. 8 that masks would be mandatory throughout the province in all indoor workplace and facilities outside the home, with some exceptions. Until then, Alberta had been the only province without a provincial mask mandate. 

They've been mandatory since Aug. 1 in all indoor public areas, with some exceptions, in Alberta's largest cities, Calgary and Edmonton, under municipal bylaws, with many smaller communities later following suit.

Under the provincial law, the mask must cover your nose, mouth and chin at all times.

Police and bylaw officers can fine those who break the restrictions $1,000 per ticketed offence and up to $100,000 through the courts. 

Enforcement against those flouting public health regulations has recently been boosted with tickets handed out in places like Calgary and Edmonton.

Albertans take to social media with anger at mask scofflaws

Meanwhile, Albertans have taken to social media recently to express their anger and frustration to those not wearing masks properly.

"Every time I go out in Calgary I see people violating the mask bylaw," tweeted another account, @nogenderid.

"Especially public facing employees who wear a mask but don't cover their nose. At restaurants, gas stations, hairdressers etc."

The account @Sol64 tweeted on Dec. 1 that he sees loads of people not wearing their masks properly.

"Driving by C-Train. Observed several people wearing their masks under their nose," tweeted the account.

One twitter user was so fed up of people not covering their noses, he retweeted a picture of a mask that sported the words "It Goes Over Your Nose."

How to approach someone whose honker is showing

Ladha encourages Albertans who see people not wearing masks properly to approach them in a friendly way and ask whether they could fix their masks.

"Say something like, 'Excuse me, I noticed that your mask has fallen below your nose and just for your own protection as well as the protection of others, perhaps you could lift it back up,'" she said.

"Some people may not react the best to this, but I don't think that should stop us from trying. I also think that if it's a place of business, a public place, that some of the responsibility does fall upon the management."

She says part of the issue is that some people don't have masks that fit properly so it's easy for them to slip as people talk or move around.

Conor Ruzycki, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering specializing in aerosols at the University of Alberta, agrees. He says a poorly fitted mask that has a lot of space along the edges as well as doesn't fit properly on the nose can put the wearer and those around them at risk of catching COVID-19.

"What would tend to happen is that some of the air, rather than going through the mask itself, it's just going to kind of go around and go through those leaks in the side."

He explains that when you're trying to take particles and droplets out of the air, you want the air to go through the mask so that it can be filtered out.

Ruzycki, a PhD candidate, says having a proper-fitted mask ensures particles are filtered out when you breathe inward. (CBC News)

"Getting a good seal to the face is really important when you're using these sorts of things," he said.

Ruzycki also adds that you want to have a mask that you can breathe through relatively easily so it's not too uncomfortable to wear.

"If you take a really deep breath you should sort of feel the mask kind of collapse a little bit in toward your mouth. And if you take a really strong breath out, you should sort of feel it balloon out a little bit," he said.

WATCH | Why health experts recommend three-layer masks: 

How does a three-layer mask protect you from COVID-19?

2 years ago
Duration 5:22
Doctors answer viewer questions about COVID-19 including why three-layer masks are now being recommended to protect against the virus.

The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends Canadians choose three-layer non-medical masks with a filter layer to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Two layers of the mask should be made of a tightly woven fabric, such as cotton or linen, and the middle layer should be a filter-type fabric, such as non-woven polypropylene fabric.

"Universal mask wearing is probably about the easiest thing that we can do that really does actually help to reduce transmission rates," said Ruzycki.

"But it does require you to wear a mask properly so I would really encourage people to pay attention to how they're wearing their masks and make sure that it is covering both your mouth and your nose."


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