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Experts say Canada's three-layer face mask recommendations make sense – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Melissa Couto-Zuber, The Canadian Press


Published Wednesday, November 4, 2020 4:05PM EST


Last Updated Wednesday, November 4, 2020 5:22PM EST

As the cold winter weather forces most of us indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s health leaders say it’s time to upgrade our cloth face masks.

Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, said in a news conference Tuesday that masks with three layers – two cloth plus a filter – are now recommended over the two-layer face coverings previously suggested.

While the new recommendations caused a stir in the House of Commons on Wednesday, with Conservative leader Erin O’Toole suggesting they’re not in line with current provincial advice and may breed confusion, medical experts across Canada agreed that a three-layer mask works better than one with two layers.

Dr. Jing Wang, a clinical instructor at the University of British Columbia who has studied different face mask materials, says the timing of the new recommendations makes sense.

“I think it’s prudent to have a more stringent indoor mask policy, because it’s very difficult to stay distant indoors,” she said. “And if we’re spending a lot of time indoors, there’s more aerosol buildup in the air, so we should especially be wearing an effective mask.”

Wang says a two-layer cotton mask is about 60 per cent effective in trapping coronavirus particles being spewed from the wearer’s mouth – provided the mask is being worn correctly and has a tight fit around the cheeks.

But adding a filter to the same two-layer cloth mask can increase its effectiveness.

“You can kick it up to about 80 or 90 (per cent), and a regular surgical mask is anywhere between 60 to 90 per cent effective,” she said. “So essentially, when you have a two-layer cloth mask with a filter, it could be just as good as a single-use surgical mask.”

Dr. Lisa Bryski, an emergency room physician in Winnipeg, wasn’t surprised by Canada’s new mask-wearing measures, saying they align with those of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Bryski also says our knowledge of face mask effectiveness has expanded since the pandemic began, which would explain why recommendations are evolving.

“We’ve come a long way since March, when you think of how we used to approach the virus,” Bryski said. “We have studies showing that wearing a mask is better than no masks, and that … two (layers) is better than one.

“And now we’re finding that two layers with a filter is better than just two.”

Tam said in Tuesday’s news conference that the new guidelines don’t necessarily mean we have to throw out all of our current cloth masks and replace them with new ones.

She recommended adding a filter to existing masks, and Health Canada’s website now includes instructions for making three-layered masks at home.

The website says filters “add an extra layer of protection against COVID-19 by trapping small infectious particles,” and suggests using either a folded paper towel or non-woven propylene materials like craft fabric, which is used to make some reusable shopping bags.

Wang warns that not all non-woven polypropylene products are created equal, however.

“And it’s not all equally effective,” she added. “Some of them are actually hazardous for the body because they contain preservatives.”

She suggests using a dried out baby wipe – one of the fabrics she tested in her research – because it’s biocompatible, breathable and contains little to no preservatives.

Wang doesn’t propose using coffee filters to line our masks, however, saying they can be thicker than other non-woven fabric and interfere with breathing.

Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease expert with the University of Toronto, says most two-layer cotton masks can be easily transformed into a three-layer filtered mask by ripping out the seams and adding a filtered material.

“Just open it up and put in some filter paper,” she said. “You can still use them if you put a filter material in between to sort of trap the virus particles.”

Bryski agrees that old masks don’t need to be thrown out, and they can and should still be worn while in the process of replacing or modifying them.

She wouldn’t advise putting two, two-layer masks on top of each other though.

“Two layers is better than nothing right now, so whatever you have, keep wearing and upgrade as you can,” she said. “But there haven’t been studies showing whether four-layer masks, or wearing double masks, are better than two because most of them are made of the same material.”

Bryski said mask upgrades shouldn’t hamper their breathability, and to refrain from using obstructive material “like plastic wrap or other solids.”

Wang stressed that mask design can be more important than the number of layers on it.

And proper fit on the face will determine how effective a mask actually is.

“Just because you’re wearing a three-layer mask with a filter doesn’t mean it’s automatically more effective if have your nose exposed or if it’s not tightly fitted around your face,” she said. “If you’re not going to wear it tightly and properly, then I don’t see too much of an advantage of having a three-layer mask.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2020.

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Commander leading COVID vaccine rollout leaves pending investigation

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A top military commander tasked with Canada‘s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has unexpectedly left his assignment pending the results of a military investigation, a government statement said on Friday.

Major-General Dany Fortin was brought in by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to lead Canada‘s vaccine distribution in November, describing the effort as the greatest mobilization effort the country has seen since World War Two.

The brief statement did not elaborate on the nature of the investigation. Acting Chief of the Defence Staff, Lieutenant-General Eyre will be reviewing next steps with Fortin, the statement added.

Fortin, who has decades of experience including in warzones, was a key fixture of the government’s vaccine briefings and his team coordinated the logistical challenge of reaching vaccines to Canada‘s far-flung places.

Canada‘s vaccination campaign has picked up pace after a rocky start, with some 43.1% of the country’s population receiving at least one dose.

 

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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Canada slams ‘unconscionable’ Iran conduct since airliner shootdown

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Canada on Thursday condemned Tehran’s “unconscionable” conduct since Iranian forces shot down an airliner last year, killing 176 people, including dozens of Canadians, and vowed to keep pressing for answers as to what really happened.

The comments by Foreign Minister Marc Garneau were among the strongest Ottawa has made about the January 2020 disaster.

“The behavior of the Iranian government has been frankly unconscionable in this past 15 months and we are going to continue to pursue them so we have accountability,” Garneau told a committee of legislators examining what occurred.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport. Iran said its forces had been on high alert during a regional confrontation with the United States.

Iran was on edge about possible attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the killing days before of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport.

Garneau complained it had taken months of pressure for Iran, with which Canada does not have diplomatic relations, to hand over the flight recorders for independent analysis and said Tehran had still not explained why the airspace had not been closed at the time.

In March, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defense operator. Iran has indicted 10 officials.

At the time, Ukraine and Canada criticized the report as insufficient. But Garneau went further on Thursday, saying it was “totally unacceptable … they are laying the blame on some low-level people who operated a missile battery and not providing the accountability within the chain of command.”

Canada is compiling its own forensic report into the disaster and will be releasing it in the coming weeks, he said.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Mexican union was set to lose disputed GM workers’ vote

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General Motors Co workers in Mexico were on track to scrap the contract negotiated by one of the country’s biggest unions, according to a Mexican government report on a vote last month that led to a U.S. complaint under a new North American free trade deal.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration called for a probe into allegations that worker rights were denied at GM’s Silao pickup truck plant during the vote to ratify workers’ collective contract with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM).

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday said he accepted the U.S. recommendation to make sure there would be no fraud in union votes, noting that many “irregularities” had been detected in the union-led vote at GM.

The CTM, which represents 4.5 million workers, is one of several traditional unions accused by workers and activists of putting business interests over workers’ rights.

A ministry report into the vote, reviewed by Reuters, shows that 1,784 workers cast ballots against keeping the CTM contract, while 1,628 workers voted to maintain it.

Allegations of interference – including the ministry’s findings that some blank ballots in union possession were cut in half – have raised suspicions among some activists and experts that the CTM may have been headed for a deeper defeat.

A follow-up vote, which the Labor Ministry ordered to take place within 30 days, could result in a wider margin against keeping the current contract, especially if more workers who were apathetic or scared of voting turned out the second time, said Alfonso Bouzas, a labor scholar at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

“This whole new opportunity is going to awaken conscience and interest,” Bouzas said.

CTM’s national spokesman, Patricio Flores, said the union supported the regional trade deal and would comply with the law and whatever “would not harm investment in Mexico.”

He did not dispute the vote tally in the labor ministry report, but called for an investigation into the disputed proceeding before a second vote.

“We should listen to the voice of these workers and not let pressure from unions in the United States and Canada have influence right now,” CTM said in a statement.

‘DOESN’T SEEM RIGHT’

The ministry document showed that just over half of the 6,494 workers eligible to vote did so in the first of two days of voting, before labor inspectors halted the process.

If GM workers scrap their contract, either the CTM or a new union could negotiate new collective terms.

Many collective bargaining contracts in Mexico consist of deals between unions and companies without workers’ approval, which has helped keep Mexican hourly wages at a fraction of those in the United States.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which took effect last year and replaced the 1994 NAFTA, sought to strengthen worker rights in Mexico and slow migration of U.S. auto production south of the border.

GM has said it respects the rights of its employees to make decisions over collective bargaining, and that it was not involved in any alleged violations. It declined to comment on the Labor Ministry report.

GM has indicated that it is ready to shift away from the old system that had let companies in Mexico turn a blind eye to worker rights, said Jerry Dias, the head of Canada‘s largest private sector union, Unifor.

“The rules are changing and a company like GM is not going to get caught,” he said.

Dias said he hoped to personally monitor the follow-up vote at the Silao plant.

Contract ratification votes are required under Mexico’s 2019 labor reform, which underpins the renegotiated free trade pact, to ensure workers are not bound to contracts that were signed behind their backs.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Christian Plumb, Richard Pullin, Paul Simao and David Gregorio)

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