A mask created by Marie MacMullin of Formal Tailoring in Hammonds Plains. Photo: Facebook

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The province’s chief medical officer of health is now telling Nova Scotians that while it’s not mandatory, they can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by wearing non-medical grade masks in public.

Dr. Robert Strang discussed the issue during Monday’s provincial COVID-19 briefing. His comments follow the advice issued earlier today by Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer.

“It is clear that transmission of the virus is happening more often than previously recognized from infected people right before they develop symptoms. This is called presymptomatic transmission,” Tam told reporters earlier today.

“There is also evidence that some infected people who never developed symptoms are also able to transmit the virus. This is called asymptomatic transmission.”

Although health officials still don’t understand how large a role pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission play in driving ths pandemic, Tam said on Monday that they know both types of transmission are indeed occurring.

“With this emerging information, the special advisory committee on COVID-19 has come to a consensus that wearing a non-medical mask, even if you have no symptoms, is an additional measure that you can take to protect others around you in situations where physical distancing is difficult to maintain,” she said, pointing to public transit and grocery stores as examples.

Tam said a non-medical mask can reduce the chance of your respiratory droplets coming into contact with others, or from landing on surfaces. She also reiterated her previous advice that wearing a non-medical mask hasn’t been proven to protect the person wearing it.

“It is an additional way that you can protect others,” she said, adding that people must still strictly adhere to public health measures that include physical distancing, frequent handwashing, and disinfecting high touch surfaces.

Tam also emphasized the critical importance of the public wearing non-medical masks only, emphasizing that supplies of medical masks must be kept for health care workers.

In his comments to Nova Scotians, Strang referred to Tam’s comments and reiterated the key points.

“It’s clear that while the vast majority of people become infectious when they become symptomatic and that is clearly the main driver of transmission of this disease, there are certainly…(people who are) pre-symptomatic. They’re very very mildly symptomatic and they may not even recognize they’re unwell,” he said.

“There also is evidence that people may be completely well, asymptomatic, and still be able to spread the virus in the 48 hours before they even start to feel unwell in any way.”

Strang said that emerging evidence led the country’s chief medical officers of health to reach the consensus that people wearing non-medical grade masks in public may play a role in preventing the spread of the virus to others.

He encouraged any Nova Scotians who want to wear masks that doing so could be helpful in preventing the spread of the virus, particularly since there’s no way to know if you’re pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the US issued a recommendation that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings, citing the same information articulated by Tam and Strang on Monday.

The CDC actually has a page dedicated to advising people how to wear and clean face coverings, in addition to instructions on how they can make their own at home.

Marie MacMullin has spent the last few days glued to her sewing machine as she fills non-stop orders for her handmade masks.

The owner of Formal Tailoring in Hammonds Plains said her wedding and events business is obviously on ice due to the pandemic, and she wanted to keep busy. She started reading about cloth face coverings being used elsewhere and began to do some research.

MacMullin created a design for a pleated mask and another for a fitted version. About two weeks ago, she posted a sample face mask on her business’ Facebook page. Although she initially received some backlash from people saying the masks “do absolutely nothing,” she said she’s been clear she is only making them for people who choose to wear them and are more comfortable having them when they must go out in public.

“I have a design background. This was not part of it,” she laughed.

She hasn’t been counting, but knows she’s made more than 100 so far. The bulk of the orders have come in over the last few days.

The requests are mostly for adult masks, although she’s received a few orders for infant and toddler masks. On Monday, she said requests for masks that fit teenagers were also picking up.

“I’ve been starting work around 10 o’clock in the morning so I can have half a cup of tea, and I’m usually here until 10:30 or 11 at night,” she said.

“It has been hard. Although I’ve been trying to do some extras to just have pre-made ones on hand, there are so many orders coming in that I’ve not had enough time.”

She said she’s the only one working in her shop. She cleans all the fabric before using it, and maintains social distancing when providing customers with their orders.

MacMullin charges $10 per mask, but said it is far from a money making venture for her.  She said she’s making them at cost.

“I was saying to my friend this morning that I’ve never worked so hard to make no money,” she said.

When asked why she’s doing it if not for money, she laughed.

“Jeez, have you ever seen a Cape Bretoner that’s gonna be idle? You can quote that. Do not keep a Cape Bretoner idle,” she said.

“As long as I can get a cup of tea and actually get to drink the tea I would be in heaven. But it hasn’t happened yet.”

Our conversation is interrupted by her frequently ringing phone.

“My phone is just constantly dinging, dinging, dinging,” she said.

“I’m getting so many inquiries. From what I see, this won’t be slowing down any time soon.”

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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  1. Experts change their opinion …..who knew
    Of the many changes of advice/opinion I quite like this one : https://710wor.iheart.com/featured/mark-simone/content/2020-04-03-watch-dr-fauci-in-january-say-you-dont-need-to-worry-about-coronavirus/

    and then there is this one from February 3 : https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/02/03/why-we-should-be-wary-an-aggressive-government-response-coronavirus/

    Back in December 1967 I flew into Japan and spent weeks in the Grand Hotel Yokohama. The desk clerk used an abacus to calculate a hotel bill; but what really surprised me was the number of people wearing a mask over the mouth; in the street and on the subway. Seemed to be normal in the winter season but I soon realised that it made more sense in a season when coughs and sneezes were quite common.