Ask Dr. Chris Sikora about the case for wearing homemade masks in public to protect yourself and others from COVID-19, and he puts his hand up pretty quickly.
For Sikora, talking about wearing masks and talking about hand hygiene is the same conversation.
“If you put one on, make sure you do a hand hygiene before putting it on,” said Sikora, who is the Alberta Health Services Chief Medical Officer of Health for the Edmonton region.
“And when you take it off, make sure you do a hand hygiene afterward.”
If you read no more of this blog post, Sikora would like you to remember one thing about wearing homemade masks: they are not a substitute for washing your hands properly—both before putting the mask on and immediately afterward.
Here’s some more advice on masks and gloves from Dr. Sikora.
Transforming Edmonton: What do I look for in a homemade mask?
Sikora: “It’s important that people actually use them properly. So, if they do have a homemade mask or a non-medical mask, make sure it’s of good quality material. They usually recommend two-ply or a very tight weave. Make sure it has a good seal around it—the nose, the sides and the bottom, as well. So that it does have an acceptable seal, not to allow things to escape too much.”
TE: Are homemade masks helpful for the public in public?
Sikora: “The Government of Canada has indicated that some of those homemade masks may be helpful or may be beneficial. And the reasons why they might be beneficial are, really, twofold. First, if you have a mask on, you might be less likely to touch your face. And the second reason why masks might be okay, and those homemade masks, is that it can be a barrier to protect other people from you.”
TE: How do I store and clean my masks?
Sikora: “If it’s a disposable, non-medical mask, make sure you dispose of it in a trash receptacle, into a garbage can. Nobody wants to be picking up your medical litter.
“If you take it home, and it’s one of those reusable, cloth-type ones, put it in a plastic bag if you’re out. That way you aren’t having to handle it and it’s not getting more dirty, or it’s not dirtying up the rest of your environment. If you do take it home, launder it. Launder it in a washing machine with soap, hot water on a hot cycle. Make sure it gets nice and clean. Make sure it gets dried out, and then ready for use the next time you need it.”
TE: Should I wear gloves?
Sikora: “Gloves are not a replacement for good hand hygiene. It’s not an effective barrier. Because they’re not used properly. Hand hygiene isn’t done before they’re used. They’re used for prolonged periods of time. Hand hygiene isn’t used at the end of it. People still touch their face. They’ll touch their nose, they’ll touch their eyes and their mouth with those gloves on.”
TE: Who are the specialized masks best used by?
Sikora: “The surgical masks and the N95 respirators are best used by our medical personnel. It’s to protect them from patients that may have COVID-19. Whenever health care workers put on a mask, they have to do hand hygiene. They wash their hands for 20 seconds, soap and water or use alcohol-based hand rub. They put on a mask and then they do hand hygiene again. Same thing when they take a mask off or a respirator off, they do hand hygiene, take off the respirator, take off the mask, and then do hand hygiene again.”
TE: Any closing advice?
Sikora: “Follow that good social distancing when you are out…because, you know, with the warm weather, it’s important to be outside. Follow the advice of public health. Stay safe, stay healthy. If you are getting ill, please contact your family physician, contact 811, if needed. Our medical staff are here to help you through this, whether it’s chronic disease, mental health, what have you, our family physicians are here to help with this.”
At the end of the day, Sikora’s takeaway advice on homemade masks worn in public, is, yes, they may be beneficial, but, yes, yes, yes, wash your hands properly, which means often and well.
Thanks for reading.
Watch the Dr. Sikora interview here: