Public health messaging over face masks changed again this week when the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance to say face coverings can help protect the wearer as well as those around them.
The new guidance, which landed on the CDC website on Tuesday, cited recent studies suggesting multi-layer cloth masks can “reduce inhalation of … droplets by the wearer.” Previous guidance said masks were useful primarily in blocking the wearer’s droplets from reaching others.
The CDC’s update now matches recommendations from both Health Canada and the World Health Organization (WHO). The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said in an emailed statement on Wednesday that “wearing a mask can help protect the wearer and others.”
However, this message seems to have been muddled due to previous conflicting guidance, which has mostly emphasized masks as a way to protect those around you.
Canadian health experts are also divided on whether the updated CDC guidance is helpful — some hope it can convince reluctant people to start wearing face masks, while others worry the message may be misinterpreted.
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Dr. Amy Tan, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Calgary and member of the physician group Masks4Canada, says the “evidence has been there since August” to show that cloth masks, provided they fit well and are made of three layers with a polypropylene filter, do protect the wearer.
And if that can persuade people to wear one, so be it.
“If the small inconvenience of wearing your mask isn’t enough to appeal to the collective good, then now we can say: ‘it can protect you too, so wear it,”’ Tan said.
Colin Furness, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Public Health, isn’t convinced the updated guidelines are accurate.
While he isn’t ruling out the possibility that cloth face masks might help protect those wearing them, he says people need to remember the caveats — three layers plus a good fit — to that claim.
“If (the CDC) is trying to appeal to peoples’ sense of self-preservation by saying: ‘masks could protect the wearer, therefore you should wear a mask,’ that could be a way to motivate people.
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“But on the other hand, I don’t endorse that because it could make people think ‘OK, I can put on a mask and it’s substitutable for physical distancing.”’
The CDC update is the latest in what’s been an evolving policy on mask-wearing over the last eight months.
Face masks were discouraged by many public health officials in Canada back in March, with some saying a home-made covering could actually lead to further spread if it meant constantly touching the face to make adjustments. The discourse then shifted to say masks were useful in protecting others, but not ourselves.
Tan says changes in guidance show “science is working.” And advancements are made in all facets of medicine on a daily basis.
“We’ve never lived in a time where we had a global pandemic,” she said. “In eight months there’s been a lot more science generated…. We’re just seeing this happening publicly and in a very compressed time.”
PHAC also acknowledged that, saying “the government is continually reviewing new evidence and research” and that new evidence guides its recommendations.
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Furness agrees that public health policy was expected to change as we learned more about the virus and how it’s transmitted.
He said every expert — himself included — could point to things they got wrong about COVID back in March, when a mask’s ability to “disrupt the ejection of droplets” wasn’t really taken into consideration.
“It was just a giant blind spot,” he said.
“I mean, think about our knowledge back then. Everyone was afraid and we didn’t know much.”
Dr. Christopher Labos, a Montreal-based physician, says COVID-19 was looked at in the same way as SARS or the flu in the early stages of the pandemic. With both of those viruses, people tend to be very symptomatic and infectious when showing symptoms.
“The original messaging was if you have no symptoms, there’s no point in wearing a mask because you’re probably not sick,” he said.
“But what’s changed is the growing realization that a lot of people have coronavirus and don’t know it. So guidelines shifted to suggest a universal masking policy, because you don’t know if you’re walking around with the virus.”
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Labos also believes there may have been reluctance to promote face masks in the early stages of the pandemic out of fear people would confuse “the different mask categories, and what their roles are.”
N-95 respirators, worn by medical professionals in high-risk situations, offer “almost complete protection,” because of their tight seal around the face. But a surgical mask or home-made cloth face covering won’t protect the wearer to that degree.
“It probably does protect you a little bit … but in terms of quantifying it, in terms of saying it with any degree of certainty, that becomes a lot more complicated,” Labos said.
The experts say it’s important to remember that mask-wearing should be viewed as just one component of the public health strategy.
“A mask doesn’t prevent infection, but it drastically reduces the chance of infection,” Labos said. “And that certainly helps.”
© 2020 The Canadian Press
Ontario reports 1,746 new COVID-19 cases, 7-day average climbs to new high – CBC.ca
Premier Doug Ford is scheduled to hold a news conference beginning at 1 p.m. in Vaughan. Ford’s office says he will be joined by the ministers of finance and education.
You can watch it live in this story.
Ontario reported another 1,746 cases of COVID-19 on Monday, as tougher restrictions go into effect in five regions of the province.
The new cases include 622 in Toronto, 390 in Peel Region, 217 in York Region and 108 in Durham Region. They push the seven-day average to a record high of 1,570.
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:
- Waterloo Region: 74
- Hamilton: 54
- Windsor: 38
- Halton Region: 35
- Ottawa: 29
- Simcoe Muskoka: 28
- Niagara Region: 22
- Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 22
- Thunder Bay: 21
- Eastern Ontario: 15
- Middlesex-London: 14
(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ontario health ministry’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its daily epidemiologic summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit because local units report figures at different times.)
There are 102 school-related cases in today’s update: 86 students, 15 staff and one person who was not identified. Those infections include 19 at an east-end Toronto elementary school that were identified by the targeted testing of asymptomatic students, teachers and other staff.
There are currently 14,197 confirmed, active cases of COVID-19 provincewide, the most since the first was reported in Ontario on January 25.
Ontario’s network of labs processed 39,406 test samples of the novel coronavirus, and recorded a test positivity rate of 4.6 per cent.
The number of people in Ontario hospitals with the illness climbed to 618, the most at any point during the second wave, and due to a timing error, data for up to 40 hospitals was not included in that figure. Those being treated in intensive care increased by 12 to 168. Public health officials have said that 150 is the threshold for when facilities must begin postponing or cancelling scheduled procedures to accommodate COVID-19 patients. Further, of the 168 in ICUs, 108 are on ventilators.
The province also reported eight additional deaths, pushing the official death toll to 3,656.
Meanwhile, the provincial government announced last week it would move Windsor-Essex into the red alert level of its tiered framework, the strictest level short of a lockdown.
In that level, indoor dining at restaurants and bars is capped at 10 customers, while social gatherings must have fewer than five people indoors and 25 outdoors.
Meanwhile, Halidimand-Norfolk is shifting to the orange level, and three other regions — Hastings Prince Edward, Lambton and Northwestern — are going into the yellow level.
The province says the regions will stay in their new categories for at least 28 days, or two COVID-19 incubation periods, before a change is considered.
Officials say they continue to monitor public health data weekly to see if any other regions require additional intervention.
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It was during one of the early planning sessions for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics that Chief Gibby Jacob heard a provincial government official talking about the Callahan Valley, which would eventually host cross-country skiing and ski jumping during the Games. Jacob, who participated in the bidding process for the Olympics and was a member of the Games organizing committee board, finally put up his hand. “I asked who the hell is this Callahan and how the hell did he get his name on our lands,” the Squamish Nation hereditary chief said with a chuckle. “They all looked at each other. I said find out and let us know.” It turns out the Callahan Valley, located near Whistler, B.C., was named after one of the early surveyors in the region. “That was the start of our big push to get our names back on places,” said Jacob. Indigenous groups had a voice in organizing and hosting the 2010 Games. But Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has suggested any movement to bring another Games to the city should be headed by Indigenous leaders. In early November, Vancouver city council voted to postpone a decision on whether it wants to explore making a bid. City staff are expected to present a report to council in early 2021. Stewart has said one of his conditions for supporting a bid is that the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh — the three Indigenous First Nations whose traditional territory includes Vancouver — head the Olympic bid committee. “I have talked to the Nations about this and there’s interest there,” the Vancouver Sun reported Stewart saying in a state-of-the-city address to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade. Emails to Stewart’s office asking to explain the mayor’s proposal were not immediately answered. Khelsilem, a councillor with the Squamish Nation Council, isn’t aware of any formal talks about leading a bid. “We haven’t had any formal discussion about it,” he said. “We haven’t made any formal decision about whether we want or don’t want. And we haven’t had any formal discussions with our neighbouring nations.” Representatives of the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh did not respond to interview requests. Khelsilem said before any decision is made, the pros and cons of hosting an Olympics must be weighed. “The reality is that something like hosting an Olympics requires a significant amount of investment and support from both the federal and provincial governments,” he said. “While there are a number of reported advantages, there’s also a number of drawbacks. “I think a lot of that workflow needs to be figured out, especially in the context of the challenges that we’re going to face over the next decade and the challenges that we’re facing on a number of fronts.” Furthermore, Jacob said: “there’s a lot to be gained by being involved [in a bid] for our people.” “I don’t think that our nations, given what we have as far as leadership resources and how fast they seem to change, would be able to take things right from scratch to completion,” he said. Creating a common agenda With 15 of the venues used for the 2010 Olympics built on First Nation traditional territories, Indigenous support was crucial for the Games success. The Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam and Lil’Wat nations formed The Four Host First Nations, a non-profit organization with the goals of uniting Canada’s Indigenous people and encouraging inclusion across the country. “I think it created a common agenda,” said Jacob. “By doing that and achieving what we set out, it was totally outstanding. “I think it showed leadership that the four separate First nations could work together for a common purpose and get benefits from it.” WATCH | President of 2010 Games says Vancouver should bid for 2030: Involvement in the Games raised awareness of Indigenous issues across Canada, he said. “When we first started out, we were pretty invisible in our own territories,” said Jacob. Indigenous groups did “fairly well in compensation for the use of our lands,” he said. The Olympics also led to traditional Indigenous names being returned to locations and landmarks plus recognition of First Nation arts and culture. John Furlong, who was head of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC), is part of the group looking at the 2030 Games. He said any bid would be impossible without Indigenous participation. “I see no scenario at all in which First Nations are not involved,” he said. “They were a difference maker in 2010. “First Nations are in multiple new business since 2010. My instincts tell me they will be keenly interested in being involved again.”
19 test positive for COVID-19 at Toronto's Thorncliffe Park Public School – Toronto Sun
Eighteen students and a staff member have tested positive for COVID-19 at an east-end Toronto elementary school.
A spokesman for the Toronto District School Board says the staff and students at Thorncliffe Park Public School were tested for the virus as part of a new pilot project.
Ryan Bird says 14 classes have been asked to self-isolate, but the school will remain open.
In a letter to parents sent Sunday night, the school principal says that’s because four per cent of the school tested positive, compared to a 16 per cent positivity rate in the broader Thorncliffe Park community.
He says he understands the cases are worrisome, but notes the school is actively monitoring the situation and communicating with Toronto Public Health.
The Ontario government announced Thursday that it was introducing voluntary testing for asymptomatic students, faculty and staff at schools in regions with high infection rates.
The expanded testing will be provided for four weeks in schools in Toronto, Peel and York regions, and Ottawa. Those who show symptoms or have been exposed to a COVID-19 case should continue to stay home and get tested at an assessment centre, the province said.
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