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New advice for N.W.T. residents: Wear a face mask when in public

Residents are asked to wear non-medical face masks when in public to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Residents are asked to wear non-medical masks in public to prevent spread of COVID-19

People wearing face masks in Barcelona, Spain, on April 4. New advice from the N.W.T.'s Office of the Chief Public Health Officer recommends people in the N.W.T. do the same. (Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press)

Not more than two hours after the premier of the Northwest Territories described the COVID-19 pandemic as an "invisible war we are fighting," recruits in that battle have new advice — use disposable or reusable face masks when in public to slow the spread of COVID-19.

An unsigned press release Tuesday afternoon from the N.W.T. Office of the Chief Public Health Officer stated that it "now recommends residents use reusable or disposable cloth face coverings when in public places."

According to the press release, although non-medical face masks cannot eliminate all contact with droplets potentially containing the novel coronavirus, they were found to be effective in limiting the droplets to spread further from people who are not aware they have COVID-19. 

"This is a way to help each other help ourselves — if everyone wears face coverings while in public, we can limit the spread of COVID-19."

The recommendation follows recent advice from Canada's chief public health officer who said on Monday that Canadians can use non-medical masks in tandem with physical distancing measures to limit the transmission of COVID-19 when out grocery shopping or at a pharmacy.

According to recent statements from Dr. Kami Kandola, the N.W.T.'s chief public health officer, cases of COVID-19 in the N.W.T. have so far been confined to individuals who had returned from travel. There is no so-called community transmission of the virus in the N.W.T.

Community transmission of the virus is the spread of an illness with no known link to travel or previously confirmed cases. It can signal a growing number of unreported cases.

Some of the masks by Sydney Wolf in Yukon, as Whitehorse sewers make cloth masks to meet high demand. (Submitted by Sydney Wolf)

No one from the territory's Department of Health and Social Services was immediately available to comment on the new advice to wear a face mask in public.

The press release emphasized that wearing a face mask does not replace previous advice or orders regarding physical distancing, hand washing or self-isolation. The advice also does not apply to employers, or anyone else who must comply with Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission guidelines.

Community effort already underway

Wilbert Cook, the executive director of the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, said his organization has been working on a project that would see home-made masks made and distributed for free in all communities in the Northwest Territories.

Wilbert Cook, the executive director of the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, says a program to get masks made in N.W.T. communities was already underway. (Randall McKenzie/CBC)

The timing of Cook's project was coincidental with Tuesday's recommendation.

He said the foundation is trying to get one or two people from each community to help sew masks.

"We will provide the material and supplies," Cook said.

Cook said he hopes to have work underway within a couple of weeks, but the foundation will need cash and materials to make it happen.

"We're looking for both fabric and cash donations but we're going to be applying to the federal government for funds to implement that project."

Do-it-yourself (DIY) efforts such as these fit in with the government recommendation to wear face coverings in public.

"We absolutely encourage these DIY creations and applaud those already setting up sewing clubs," states an email from the N.W.T. office of the press secretary. "[We] encourage residents to tag the government of the Northwest Territories Facebook page and the Twitter account of our chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola with photos of them wearing their DIY creations."

Yes to cotton, no to polyester

According to the press release, face coverings could include home-made coverings, but they must: 

  • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face 
  • Be secured with ties or ear loops 
  • Include multiple layers of fabric 
  • Allow for breathing without restriction 
  • Be able to be washed and machine dried without damage or change to shape with hot temperatures

According to the press release, disposable material such as layers of tissue or paper towels can be used, but should be disposed of after each use.

Two 10 x 6 inch sheets of 100 per cent cotton are recommended, with material to fasten behind one's ears or head. Polyester and nylon are not recommended.

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