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Help reduce risk of infection


Human coronaviruses cause infections of the nose, throat and lungs.

They are most commonly spread from an infected person through:
-respiratory droplets generated when you cough or sneeze
-close, prolonged personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
-touching something with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands

Current evidence suggests person-to-person spread is efficient when there is close contact.

Proper hygiene can help reduce the risk of infection or spreading infection to others:

-wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the washroom and when preparing food
-use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
-when coughing or sneezing: cough or sneeze into a tissue or the bend of your arm, not your hand
dispose of any tissues you have used as soon as possible in a lined waste basket and wash your hands afterwards
-avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands
-clean the following high-touch surfaces frequently with regular household cleaners or diluted bleach (1 part bleach to 9 parts water):
  • toys
  • toilets
  • phones
  • electronics
  • door handles
  • bedside tables
  • television remotes

Wearing masks

If you are healthy, it is not clear there is any significant benefit to wearing a mask to protect yourself from getting COVID-19. However, good hand hygiene and cough etiquette will provide significant protection from viral respiratory illnesses.

If you are sick and experiencing symptoms such as coughing or sneezing, wearing a medical mask can help prevent the spread of germs and viruses. This is why people who are experiencing cough or respiratory symptoms are provided with a medical mask to wear when visiting a health facility including an urgent care centre, emergency department or community screening location. If you are sick, you are advised to self-isolate and stay away from other people, including members of your household.

It is important in a public health emergency to ensure medical masks are reserved for health care workers. This includes medical/procedure masks, and N95 masks. N95 masks are used by health care workers during certain kinds of medical procedures to protect health care workers from particles that are circulating in the air.

The best way to protect yourself is to regularly clean your hands, practice good cough etiquette and practice social (physical) distancing, including self-isolating when you are sick or have been exposed to COVID-19.

Careful hand hygiene and public health measures, including frequent hand washing and social and physical distancing, remain the best approach to reduce your chance of being exposed to the virus.

Wearing a homemade mask is another way of covering your mouth and nose to prevent your respiratory droplets from spreading to others or landing on surfaces. Homemade masks may include those that are made of cloth (e.g. cotton), and can be made with pockets to insert other masks or filters.

The mask can reduce the chance that others are coming into contact with your respiratory droplets, in the same way as practicing cough etiquette by covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, or coughing or sneezing into your sleeve.

Wearing a homemade (non-medical) mask in the community and when in public has not been proven to protect the person wearing it and is not a substitute for physical distancing and hand washing. However, it can be an additional measure that can protect others around you, even if you don't have any symptoms.

Homemade masks can be useful for short periods of time, when physical distancing is not possible. They can be worn in public settings such as using public transit, essential shopping trips and during health care appointments either in the home or when visiting a health care facility. You may also be asked to wear a non-medical mask by a health care provider to reduce the risk of transmission to others, even if you don't have symptoms.

However, homemade masks are not medical personal protective equipment and are not regulated like medical masks and respirators. They may not provide complete protection from virus particles because of a potential loose fit and the materials used.

If you choose to wear a non-medical face mask, you must do the following:

Wash your hands immediately before putting it on and immediately after taking it off.
Practice good hand hygiene while wearing the mask.
Ensure your mask fits well (doesn't gape).
Do not share your mask with others.
Face masks can become contaminated on the outside, or when touched by your hands. Avoid touching your face mask while wearing it, change your mask as soon as it is damp or soiled and place the mask directly into a bag or into the washing machine, launder your mask on a hot cycle and dry it thoroughly.

Medical masks, including surgical, medical procedure face masks and respirators (N95 and similar), must be kept for health care workers and others providing direct care to COVID-19 positive and suspect patients.

Read more: COVID-19 Use of Cloth Masks 

Read more Frequently Asked Questions


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