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Is heat needed to clean reusable masks? Your COVID questions answered –



We’re answering your questions about the pandemic. Send yours to, and we’ll answer as many as we can. We publish a selection of answers online and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network. So far, we’ve received more than 53,000 emails from all corners of the country.

With more of us wearing reusable, non-medical masks, CBC readers have had some good questions about how to keep them clean.

Also, some of you are wondering how to get to a testing centre safely if you don’t own a car, whether you can get COVID-19 twice, and whether infrared thermometers are dangerous. Here are the answers.

Is heat or soap more important for cleaning reusable masks? 

Health Canada recommends cleaning masks in a washing machine using a hot cycle and then drying them completely.

Colin Furness, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, notes that, in fact, viruses can’t reproduce outside the body and don’t survive well on fabrics, so cleaning reusable masks is mainly to get rid of potentially smelly bacteria. For that, he said, heat works better.

There are some simple ways to hand clean your mask with heat. Dr. Anand Kumar, associate professor of medical microbiology at the University of Manitoba, suggests one of the following:

  • Steaming for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Heating at 70 C for one hour.
  • Immersing in boiling water for 30 seconds.

However, he notes that from the perspective of killing coronaviruses, even washing in cold water should be fine, as long as you use detergent or soap, which damages the capsule of coronaviruses.

WATCH | How to safely wear and clean a mask

Glasses fog up? Not sure how often to wash the mask? CBC’s Tina Lovgreen demonstrates how to wear a mask safely. 1:51

Are damp masks less effective?

That depends on what they’re made of, experts say. The protection offered by masks comes mostly from the physical barrier created by the fibres in the fabric.

“Most damp masks shouldn’t be less effective,” said Kumar.

However, he said the filtration abilities of N95 masks may degrade when they go beyond damp to “out-and-out wet.”

Furness said in some fabrics, fibres could potentially cling together when damp, leaving larger gaps.

On the other hand, some fibres might swell up when damp and may make the mask more effective, he suggested. But that might also make it harder to breathe through.

Regardless, in general, public health officials recommend changing masks when they become damp or dirty.

Kumar notes that damp masks allow bacteria to grow, although most of the time that results in them becoming smelly “but not really dangerous by and large (within reasonable limits).”

WATCH | Washing tips for reusable masks

Andrew Chang explains that if you’re wearing a cloth mask during the COVID-19 pandemic the best way to disinfect it is to wash it. 1:15

What’s the safest way of getting to a testing centre if I don’t have a car?

Many car-free readers, including a number of seniors, have written to us wondering this.

Diane Fairfield, 77, of Vancouver, B.C., recently completed a two-week quarantine after being exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. She was asked by provincial health officials to go to a COVID-19 testing site. “I have no way to get there,” she said.

She was advised to take a taxi, but called the taxi company to make sure that was okay. She found it disconcerting when they told her it wasn’t a problem, and they regularly transported airport travellers returning from high-risk COVID-19 hotspots.

To help people without cars, Sudbury, Ont., sent paramedics to do COVID testing house calls, something Fairfield herself suggested be done in Vancouver. Kitchener, Ont., offered free rides to testing centres in old ambulances.

But in most communities, those options don’t exist. So what to do?

According to Dr. Matthew Cheng, an infectious disease doctor at McGill University Health Centre, “the safest thing would ideally be to walk.”

However, if that’s not possible, it’s okay to take a taxi, get a ride from a friend, or take public transit, he said.

If a friend is offering a ride, he recommends making sure that person follows public health guidelines, so as not to expose yourself to more risk. A ride from that kind of friend may be safer than a taxi or Uber driver, who is potentially exposed to many people a day.

In any case, he recommends that to reduce risk during the ride:

  • Wear a mask.
  • Clean your hands.
  • Keep the windows open.

WATCH | What to expect in a taxi or ride-hailing service

Taxis and ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft have made some changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Andrew Chang walks through what to expect when you’re catching a ride.   1:35

Can you get COVID twice?

There are still knowledge gaps when it comes to understanding our immune response to the virus that causes COVID-19, including how well, and for how long, someone who has recovered from the disease is protected from reinfection.

“In most cases you would expect those antibodies to provide you with protection for a period of time,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, the World Health Organization’s head of emergencies. But we don’t yet know how lasting that protection is against the virus that causes COVID-19.

Researchers are now considering at least four confirmed cases of COVID reinfections that were reported in late August — including one in Hong Kong, two in Europe, and one in Reno, Nevada

In most of these cases, the patients contracted a different strain of the virus and their reinfection symptoms appeared to be relatively mild. However, doctors said the Nevada patient developed more severe COVID-19 symptoms the second time around.

Reinfection “may represent a rare event,” the Nevada researchers wrote. But, they said, the findings implied that initial exposure to the virus may not result in full immunity for everyone who has been infected by it.

In other research, one small study on COVID-19 immunity found that people who were asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic had their antibodies diminish within two to three months. Though larger studies are needed, the findings also cast doubt on whether “herd immunity” will ever be achieved with COVID-19, where enough of the population is protected that the virus it has nowhere else to spread. You can learn more about that study in this video.

A worker’s body temperature is checked with an infrared thermometer before the start of a work shift in San Jose, Calif., on April 2, 2020. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

Can infrared thermometers used for COVID screening damage your pineal gland?

You’ve probably seen no-contact, gun-shaped thermometers being pointed at people’s foreheads to screen for COVID-19-related fevers at locations ranging from supermarkets to airports to daycare centres. We’ve had at least one worried reader write to CBC News asking, “Is having an infrared thermometer pointed at your forehead dangerous to your brain … specifically the pineal gland?”

The answer is no.

Infrared thermometers work by focusing the heat — infrared light — emitted from your skin onto a sensor. So your body is actually beaming infrared rays into the thermometer and not the other way around.

“The infrared devices don’t actually emit anything,” said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Alberta in an email.

There is sometimes a laser that helps focus the beam, but it needs to meet the same safety regulations as lasers in other consumer products such as toys and laser pointers.

As for the pineal gland, which produces hormones such as melatonin, it’s not even anywhere near your forehead, Dr. Haris Sair, director of neuroradiology at Johns Hopkins University noted in an interview with the Associated Press: “This thing is smack dab right in the middle of the head.”

If you’re still nervous about getting the thermometer pointed at your forehead, it will actually work on other parts of your body. In fact, a recent study posted as a preprint (not yet peer-reviewed) found that pointing the thermometer at the wrist instead of the forehead gave a more stable measurement and both forehead and wrist measurements had great fever-screening abilities.

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Ontario sets new single-day high with 700 cases of COVID-19 – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



Chris Fox,

Published Monday, September 28, 2020 10:30AM EDT

Last Updated Monday, September 28, 2020 10:48AM EDT

Ontario is reporting a record 700 new cases of COVID-19 with nearly half of them in Toronto.

It’s the highest daily count ever recorded in Ontario, surpassing the 640 cases confirmed on April 24.

It should, however, be noted that the province was testing far fewer people this spring and those numbers might not have fully captured the degree to which the virus was present at the time.

For example, the previous high of 640 cases was based on the completion of more than 12,000 individual tests, translating into a positive percentage of five per cent. Meanwhile, the 700 cases confirmed on Monday came on more than 41,000 tests. That translates into a positive percentage of about 1.7 per cent.

Of the new cases confirmed on Monday, roughly three-quarters of them were in the Greater Toronto Area (526 cases), continuing a recent trend.

Toronto alone had 344 cases while Peel Region had 104 cases, York Region had 56 cases, Durham Region had seven cases and Halton Region had 15 cases.

More to come…

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Ontario's 2nd wave of COVID-19 forecast to peak in October –



Fresh projections suggest that Ontario’s second wave of COVID-19 will peak in mid- to late October and will likely send enough patients to intensive care that hospitals will need to scale back non-emergency surgeries.

The forecasts come from the COVID-19 Modelling Collaborative, a joint effort of scientists and physicians from the University of Toronto, University Health Network and Sunnybrook Hospital. 

Based on how quickly Ontario’s infection rate has been rising in recent weeks, the model projects the province is on track to exceed 1,000 new cases per day by the middle of October, unless stricter public health measures slow the accelerating spread.

The average number of new cases reported daily in Ontario is currently running four times higher than what it was at the end of August. Premier Doug Ford’s government has since shrunk limits on the size of private gatherings, reduced opening hours for bars and ordered strip clubs to close.

On Sunday, Ontario’s Ministry of Health reported 112 patients in hospital with a confirmed case of COVID-19, nearly triple the number of two weeks ago. The research team says the impact of the second wave on Ontario’s hospitals will depend on the demographics of who gets infected in the coming weeks. 

The dotted line shows the current prediction for the start of Ontario’s second wave of COVID-19, based on work by a team of researchers from the University of Toronto, the University Health Network and Sunnybrook Hospital. The solid lines model how the case numbers will evolve if the second wave follows the patterns seen in Ontario in the spring (orange), in Michigan this summer (light grey), in the Australian state of Victoria (dark grey), or Italy in the pandemic’s first wave (black). (COVID-19 ModCollab)

“We are at this critical moment right now where we see case numbers increase and we don’t quite know yet where it’s going,” said Beate Sander, a scientist at the University Health Network and Canada Research Chair in economics of infectious diseases. 

“Right now, we have predominantly younger, healthy people (contracting COVID-19 in Ontario),” Sander said in an interview with CBC News. “But what we’ve seen in other jurisdictions is that it really spills over into other population groups.” 

The team of researchers has run four scenarios for how Ontario’s second wave could play out from here.

The best-case scenario would mimic Ontario’s first wave in March and April, when case numbers increased rapidly but were then reined in by a lockdown. 

Two moderate scenarios would resemble how a second wave hit jurisdictions comparable to Ontario: the Australian state of Victoria (home to Melbourne, a city of 5 million), and the U.S. state of Michigan. 

Long lines at testing centres, like this one pictured in Toronto on Sept. 21, 2020, mirror a spike in cases of COVID-19 provincial health officials link to people under 40 not following public health guidelines at social gatherings. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

None of those three scenarios shows COVID-19 patients filling Ontario’s hospital wards or ICUs beyond their capacity. That happens only in the modellers’ worst-case scenario: a second wave as severe as the first wave that hit Italy when the pandemic began.

However, in all but the best-case scenario, the researchers foresee ICU demand that exceeds the capacity required for patients undergoing scheduled surgeries. 

“The really high-risk cancer surgeries, for instance, won’t be able to go ahead if the ICUs are overwhelmed with people who are showing up in the emergency department dying of COVID-19 associated pneumonia and respiratory failure,” said Dr. Kali Barrett, a critical care physician at the University Health Network and part of the modelling research team. 

The researchers stress that their modelling scenarios are simply forecasts. They use data on the proportion of people who have have ended up in hospital and ICUs while positive for the coronavirus, and project those onto Ontario’s current trend in new cases.

The shifting demographics of who’s getting infected with COVID-19 as the second wave builds makes it challenging for the researchers to forecast just how many people will need hospital treatment.

“The second wave in Spain and France started in the younger populations, but it is spreading to the elderly and the people who are more at risk of ending up in the intensive care unit or in the hospitals,” said Barrett in an interview with CBC News.

“It is just a matter of time until this virus, if it’s affecting the young populations, spreads into the elderly population,” she said. “We’re already starting to see that happening in Ontario.”

The latest figures from the province’s Ministry of Health show 227 people aged 70 or older with an active confirmed case of COVID-19. That number has increased 34 per cent in the space of a week.

Changes in the eligibility criteria for testing can also muddy the forecast. When testing is widespread and captures larger number of mild cases, the percentage who end up in hospital will be smaller than when testing is restricted to priority groups most likely to have the virus, as it was in Ontario in the spring. 

Ontario altered its “anyone can get a test” policy on Friday, so far fewer people without symptoms are now eligible for testing. 

ICU demand could lengthen surgical backlog 

Ontario has around 2,000 intensive care beds, and the province plans to add 139 in October. The province’s ICU beds are typically two-thirds occupied by patients whose cases have nothing to do with COVID-19, whether it’s a heart attack, car accident, or another critical illness. 

Since ICUs can’t actually function at 100 per cent occupancy full time, the researchers calculate that Ontario has around 475 beds available for non-emergency surgery patients and COVID patients. When scheduled surgeries are running at full pace, those patients take up all but 100 of those beds.

This graph forecasts what will happen in Ontario if the second wave resembles what happened in the Australian state of Victoria, home to the city of Melbourne. It would see some 1,200 patients in Ontario’s general hospital wards and 350 to 400 patients in intensive care (ICU) beds at the peak in late October. (COVID-19 ModCollab)


Their conclusion: if more than 100 people with COVID-19 need ICU care, they’d be competing for space with scheduled surgery cases. 

“Then we would have to make decisions in terms of who to treat,” said Sander. “Do we admit COVID patients or do we do (non-emergency) surgery?”

The projections suggest if Ontario’s second wave follows what happened in the Australian state of Victoria — a sharp spike in new infections that drops off quickly after a strict lockdown — some 350 to 400 people will need an ICU bed at peak demand in late October.

If the second wave in this province plays out as Michigan’s did — a rise in new infections that levels off but doesn’t slow down for a long time — the forecast is for more than 200 patients with COVID-19 in the ICUs from late October onwards. 

Figures published Sunday by the Ministry of Health show 28 ICU patients with a confirmed case of COVID-19.   

In Ontario’s first wave, the number of COVID-19 patients in ICU peaked at 264, while the number of people in hospital at one time peaked at 1,043. Non-emergency surgeries were postponed across the province.  

If the majority of Ontario’s second wave infections come among younger healthier people — as has been happening through September — hospitalization rates are expected be lower than in the spring. 

The modellers say ICU occupancy numbers will be of more critical concern than total hospitalization numbers because Ontario’s hospital system can far more easily free up general ward beds than it can make space in intensive care.   

That’s less about the available beds and ventilators, and more about the having enough doctors and nurses capable of the specialized care that ICU patients need.    

“You can’t just train people overnight to do this type of thing,” said Sander. “You can buy a lot of beds and you can buy a lot of ventilators, but you can’t get these highly qualified staff on the ground within a very short period of time.” 

Barrett agrees that human resources are the key limiting factor, and is concerned about how the second wave could hit hospital staff and their families. 

“The majority of people working in hospitals are in their 30s, 40s and 50s, so many of them have children who go to school,” she said. “If there is a massive outbreak amongst the younger population and school children, that’s a whole sector of our health workforce that won’t be able to come to work.”

Still have questions about COVID-19? These CBC News stories will help.

Is another lockdown coming in Ontario? What do we know about the Ford government’s fall plan?

CBC Queen’s Park reporter Mike Crawley obtained a draft copy of the plan

What’s the latest on where I should get tested?

It’s confusing, but here’s an explainer complete with a flow chart

What’s the most recent guidance on mask use?

Reporter Lauren Pelley took a look at what the experts are advising

What should I do about my COVID bubble?

With cases going up, even small gatherings are getting riskier

Who is getting COVID-19?

CBC News crunched the data from across Canada to get the clearest picture possible

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Manitoba sees 51 new COVID-19 cases on eve of tightened restrictions –



Public health officials in Manitoba are reporting 51 new cases of COVID-19 in the province Sunday, 36 of which are in the Winnipeg health region.

Eight cases have been identified in the Interlake-Eastern health region, four in the Southern Health region, two in the Northern health region and a lone case in the Prairie Mountain Health region.

Read more:
Metro Winnipeg area moving to level Orange restrictions Monday; masks to be mandatory

The current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 2.2 per cent, down from 2.3 per cent on Saturday.

Thirteen people are currently in hospital with six in intensive care.

There are now 589 active COVID-19 cases in the province, 490 of which are in the Winnipeg region, according to provincial data. 

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The province is also warning of a possible school exposure at École Précieux-Sang on Sept. 18.

Public health officials say the virus was not contracted at school and the risk of transmission is low.

Another warning has been issued at Sisler High School after a possible exposure on Sept. 18.

Contact tracing at the high school is underway, with anyone identified as a close contact expected to be contacted and provided instructions for self-isolation by public health officials.

Read more:
65 COVID-19 cases in Manitoba Saturday, 56 in Winnipeg

Starting Monday, people in Winnipeg and 17 surrounding metropolitan communities are required to wear masks while in indoor public places as part of ratcheted-up public health restrictions.

Gathering sizes will be pared down to 10 people both indoors and outdoors.

The new rules come after the province announced Winnipeg, along with the municipalities surrounding the city, will move to a level orange restriction Monday, under Manitoba’s colour-coded pandemic response rating system.

<div class="l-article__part" data-shortcode=" Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

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The new restrictions will be in place for at least four weeks, including Thanksgiving on Oct. 12, chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Friday.

Preliminary laboratory testing numbers show 2,234 tests were completed Friday, bringing the total number of lab tests completed since early February to 175,867, the province said in a news release.

As of Sunday morning, the total number of cases in Manitoba is 1,880.

-With files from Erik Pindera and Elisha Dacey

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Increased number of COVID-19 cases in Manitoba linked to Winnipeg bars and restaurants, health official says'

Coronavirus: Increased number of COVID-19 cases in Manitoba linked to Winnipeg bars and restaurants, health official says

Coronavirus: Increased number of COVID-19 cases in Manitoba linked to Winnipeg bars and restaurants, health official says

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