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
Amazon's Covid Dilemma: Mandate Vaccinations and Risk Losing Workers – Bloomberg
While much of Corporate America scrambled to adjust Covid-19 policies this summer in response to a surge of cases, Amazon.com Inc. was dismantling its coronavirus testing sites. Sequestered corners of warehouses and conference rooms where, just a few weeks ago employees were performing nasal swabs, are now blocked off or cleared of equipment.
This may seem counterintuitive as the delta variant rips through many of the states where Amazon has warehouses. But the company says employees have plenty of other ways to get tested. Amazon, employees say, has been loath to make the tests compulsory for fear of alienating the Covid skeptics in its ranks. The same has held true for forcing workers to get vaccinated.
Delta variant behind increase in COVID-19 case numbers in British Columbia: experts – Trail Times
The number of COVID-19 cases caused by the Delta variant is doubling every seven to 10 days in British Columbia, experts say.
Prof. Sarah Otto of the University of British Columbia said the variant, which first became prominent in India, is displacing the one that originated in the United Kingdom.
“Delta is now the most common variant in the province, with its frequency doubling every week relative to Alpha,” said Otto, who is an expert in the university’s zoology department on the mathematical models of pandemic growth and evolution.
“The Delta variant increases the viral load by about one-thousand-fold, making it much easier to catch and transmit.”
COVID-19 cases in B.C. continued their upward march as the province reported more than 700 infections Tuesday over a four-day period, with more than half of those in the Interior where the vaccination rate is lower.
Paul Tupper, a mathematics professor from Simon Fraser University, said the Delta variant is a “large part” of the reason for the increase in COVID-19 case numbers.
The relaxing of restrictions and reopening of the economy have also contributed to the growth, he said.
If the Alpha variant infects two people on an average, the Delta infects three, he said.
“And that’s bad news.”
The good news is that areas with higher vaccination rates are showing fewer infections even among the Delta variant, he said.
The Vancouver Coastal region has a vaccination rate of about 80 per cent while it is 65 per cent for the Interior and that is reflected in COVID-19 case numbers, Tupper said.
Dean Karlen, a physics professor at the University of Victoria, said the emergence of the Delta variant is stronger than scientists expected, and Canada’s next wave has the potential to be similar to what is happening in the United States if no special measures such as mask mandates are reintroduced.
“But right now, in Alberta and British Columbia, it’s very clear that Delta is starting to play a big role,” he said.
The exact trajectory and intensity of growth will become clearer as more data comes in over the next few weeks, he said.
Otto said B.C. is beginning a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, but how high it will get and how fast it will rise depends on everybody’s behaviour.
The two things people can do to prevent the wave from getting “very high” is get vaccinated and avoid indoor crowded spaces without a mask, she said.
The province and the country will continue seeing such waves as new, more transmissible variants arise, but Otto noted that “vaccinations are really protecting people from the worst ravages of this disease.”
Caroline Colijn, a mathematics professor at Simon Fraser University, said most of the infections are likely to be among the unvaccinated population.
“And they of course have the same risk of hospitalization they always did or maybe more with Delta because it may be more severe and higher viral loads,” she said.
While the vaccines are about 90 per cent effective against the virus, Tupper said there will still be some people who get sick and transmit to others.
A higher degree of immunity can be achieved by vaccinating children under 12, he said.
Health Canada has not yet approved a vaccine for children under 12.
“Children when immunized can contribute to herd immunity, and that makes other people that they’re with safer,” he said.
It “definitely makes sense” to have some restrictions until a higher vaccination rate is reached, Tupper said.
“So, anything that buys us time, that allows us to have fewer infections before we get our vaccination numbers high, that makes sense.”
—Hina Alam, The Canadian Press
B.C. urges unvaccinated people to get their COVID shot during Walk-in Wednesday – Barriere Star Journal
As cases continue to rise across B.C., health officials are urging anyone who is not yet fully vaccinated to drop in at a vaccine clinic for Walk-In Wednesday today (Aug. 4).
According to the province, anyone ages 12 and older is eligible for their first shot, while anyone who got their first dose before June 16 can get their second. People getting their second dose are asked to bring their immunization cards.
All vaccine clinics in B.C. will be offering walk-in appointments for either Pfizer or Moderna. There is no need to register beforehand. To find a clinic in your community, click here.
B.C. recorded 742 cases and one death over the long weekend, a marked increase from even two weeks ago. The average number of cases over the long weekend – four reporting periods – was 186 cases. For the weekend starting on July 16, there were an average of 52 cases each day.
Vaccines, which health officials and experts say remain the best way to keep cases down, have also risen. On July 19, 79.9 per cent of people had their first dose and 53.2 per cent of people had their second dose. As of Tuesday, 81.4 per cent had their first dose and 67.3 per cent had their second.
Research by an independent modelling group shows that increasing the first-dose vaccination rate in a community from 70 per cent to 90 per cent can decrease cases five-fold.
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