Time to upgrade your masks to ward off Omicron, says Sask.'s top doctor

Your single layer cloth mask is not enough to protect you from the Omicron variant, said Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer. He recommends a tightly woven, three-layer model.

Dr. Saqib Shahab also recommends cutting down the number of people you see

Medical health officers are recommending people upgrade to three-layer masks, or medical versions such as the N95 mask. (CBC News)

Your single layer, cloth mask is not enough to protect you from the Omicron variant of COVID-19, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer said.

"We've always said use your best mask, which in many cases can be tightly woven, three layer models," Dr. Saqib Shahab said, adding they should be washed before use. "You may choose to put a filter in it, [and] for people at high risk, they can use a medical mask that still has to fit well around the face to prevent leakage from the sides and should have a nose clip."

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, urged people to go even further. People should get vaccinated and get the "best masks possible that you can get your hands on," she said, adding that workplaces should have good ventilation.

Shahab said many people are now choosing to upgrade to a K95 or N95 mask.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam says people should be wearing the best masks they can get their hands on. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"That may be especially important if you're severely immuno-suppressed and have to be in a situation where you are exposed. "But regardless of what type of mask you use, it should fit well."

Tam said even the three-ply surgical type masks might not be enough and that N95-type respirators are a better fit for people's faces. 

Holiday gatherings

Shahab also recommended cutting down on the number of people you see over the holidays. 

"Reducing contacts by around 50 per cent is a good strategy to keep our case numbers low as Omicron comes," he said. 

"Outdoors is better than indoors, especially with children," Shahab added. 

Saskatchewan Chief Medical Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab says people need to be cautious when gathering during the holidays. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

If you are indoors, consider opening windows a little to increase ventilation.

"Sticking to a small, consistent group is going to be important. Instead of having a large group, you know, break it up into two groups," Shahab said.

"Many provinces are messaging 20 is plenty. So, you know, we can do a lot more this Christmas and holiday season than we could last year. But we do need to be cautious, especially with the risk of Omicron taking hold and then escalating very quickly over the holidays, or as soon as we get back to work."

Shahab said everyone should manage their risks based on their own underlying risk factors and comfort level.