Use of non-medical cloth masks or face coverings in community settings

COVID-19 is spread through contact with the respiratory droplets produced by infected individuals when they cough, sneeze, or even when they laugh or speak, including by individuals who have not yet or who may never develop symptoms.

Strategies to re-open sectors and societal activities need to take into account the role of both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals in spreading COVID-19. This challenges us to consider additional strategies to reduce transmission by whatever means available.

As we move forward, it is critical that we continue to practice the behaviours that we know are effective in preventing the transmission of COVID-19:

  • staying home and away from others if you are ill
  • washing your hands frequently
  • covering your cough with tissues or your sleeve
  • practising physical distancing
  • cleaning and disinfecting your surfaces and objects
  • protecting those most at risk from the virus

Modifying our environments or changing our routines can also reduce transmission of COVID-19. Measures such as using physical barriers (e.g., plexiglass/transparent barriers), changing workflow, and using spacing aids such as taped visual cues are examples of important and effective means of preventing the spread of COVID-19 in public spaces and or work environments.

The wearing of non-medical masks or cloth face coverings is an additional personal practice that can help to prevent the infectious respiratory droplets of an unknowingly infected person from coming into contact with other people outside the home.

Commercially available or homemade cloth masks or face coverings can play an important role in situations and community settings where physical distancing is not possible or is unpredictable. Benefits of use are greatest when the risk of viral transmission is higher (e.g., local community transmission, busy public settings where you may not be able to control your contacts with others), and are marginal when risk of viral transmission is lower (e.g., limited community transmission, private settings where you are able to control physical distancing and limit your contact with others).

When the local epidemiology and rate of community transmission warrant it, the wearing of non-medical masks or cloth face coverings is recommended for periods of time when it is not possible to consistently maintain a two-metre physical distance from others, particularly in crowded public settings. These situations could include public transportation, stores and shopping areas. Face masks may also be recommended in some group living situations (e.g., group homes, correctional facilities, dormitories or group residences). Advice regarding the wearing of masks may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction based on local epidemiology.

Some situations may call for the use of a medical mask, for example, medical masks may be a more appropriate choice for some service providers, depending on their environment and their clientele. Such situations might include providing services – within a 2m physical distance - to a client who cannot wear a non-medical mask or face covering, and measures such as plexiglass barriers are not possible or available (e.g. personal care services). All efforts should be made to preserve the supply of medical masks for those who most need them. It is important that non-medical masks or cloth face coverings be worn safely.

The website Canada.ca/coronavirus has information on the appropriate use of non-medical masks or cloth face coverings, including how to make your own. Non-medical masks can be made at home from readily available materials, ensuring that they are accessible to all who need them. There is ongoing discussion regarding the best materials or best construction methods for non-medical masks or cloth face coverings, and the website will be updated as new information becomes available.

Non-medical masks or cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.

Use of non-medical cloth masks or face coverings in workplace settings

Non-medical masks or cloth face coverings are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE). Recommendations for the use of personal protective equipment are based on risk assessments of specific environments and risk of exposure. There may be some non-healthcare work settings for which medical masks may be more appropriate than non-medical masks. Masks may not be suitable for all types of occupations. Employers should consult with their Occupational Health and Safety team and local public health before introducing mask-wearing policies to the workplace.

When establishing policies regarding use of non-medical masks or cloth face covering in the workplace, employers should consider carefully the occupational requirements of their workers and their specific workplace configuration to ensure mitigation against any possible physical injuries that might inadvertently be caused by wearing a face covering (e.g., interfering with the ability to see or speak clearly, or becoming accidentally lodged in equipment the wearer is operating). The potential psychological impacts of the non-medical mask or cloth face covering on other employees or clients should also be considered (e.g. design/construction of the mask, messaging, etc.). Non-medical masks or cloth face coverings are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE).

Although all efforts should be made to preserve the supply of medical masks for healthcare settings, there may be some non-healthcare workplaces in which a medical mask may be a more appropriate choice for the protection of the worker, for example, providing services to a client who cannot wear a non-medical mask or face covering when the two-metre physical distance cannot be maintained, and measures such as plexiglass/transparent barriers are not possible or available.

Masks may not be suitable for all types of occupation. Employers should consult with their Occupational Health and Safety team and local public health before introducing mask-wearing policies to the workplace. Recommendations for the use of personal protective equipment are based on risk assessments of specific environments and risk of exposure.

For more information:

Risk-informed decision-making guidelines for workplaces and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic