COVID-19: Guidance for Using Non-Medical Face Masks

Current guidelines from Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health suggest that COVID-19 can be spread by infected individuals whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic (no symptoms). PHAC advices that using non-medical face masks, including non-medical disposable masks and self-made or commercial cloth masks, is a tool that may reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 in workplaces where physical distancing (2-metre distance between individuals) is challenging or not possible.

In the current context of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) shortages associated with COVID-19, medical masks (e.g., surgical, medical procedure masks and N95 respirators) are being conserved for use in healthcare settings, except where previously required and approved by Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) for work processes. 

 

When to Use a Non-Medical Face Mask

  • Physical distancing measures and/or physical barriers need to be considered and implemented to the greatest extent feasible. 
  • Face coverings must be worn when maintaining 2 metres of physical distance is not possible or predictable.
  • The University has secured a limited supply of non-medical masks for supervisors to order from the Physical Resources stockroom. 
  • As the supply is limited, individuals are also permitted to wear their own non-medical mask provided it is appropriate for the workplace and is properly laundered. 
  • Please Consult with Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) at ehs@uoguelph.ca with any questions you might have around the use of non-medical masks.

 

What is a Non-Medical Face Mask

  • For the purpose of this guidance, “non-medical face mask” refers to various forms of self-made or commercial, disposable or reusable masks or face coverings made of cloth, other textiles or other materials. 
  • Unlike surgical or medical procedure masks, non-medical face masks do not meet the certification standards nor are they intended for use in health care settings or by healthcare professionals. 
  • Unlike N95 filtering facepiece respirators, non-medical face masks are neither designed to protect the wearer from exposure to airborne contaminants nor classified as personal protective equipment (PPE).  

 

Why Use a Non-Medical Face Mask

  • When worn properly, a person wearing a non-medical mask can reduce the spread of his or her own infectious respiratory droplets. Non-medical masks do not provide complete protection against viral particles because of a potential loose fit and the materials used.   
  • Using a non-medical mask is a tool that COMPLEMENTS (but does NOT replace) the following measures that prevent the spread of COVID-19 between people: 
    • If you feel sick, DO NOT come to work and notify your Supervisor. 
    • If you become sick while at work, STOP working, isolate yourself from others, notify your Supervisor and go home as soon as possible.
    • Maintain physical distancing of at least 2 metres (6 feet) and/or a physical barrier between individuals.
    • Practice proper hand hygiene.
    • Practice respiratory etiquette by covering coughs or sneezes with a tissue or your elbow.
    • Frequently clean and disinfect the work areas, especially the high-touch surfaces.

 

Who Should Not Use a Non-Medical Face Mask

  • In general, anyone who has trouble breathing.
  • If you have a medical condition that impacts your ability to wear a non-medical mask, please contact Occupational Health and Wellness (OHW) at ohw@uoguelph.ca and notify your supervisor. Please note that employees are not required to disclose their specific medical condition to their supervisor.

 

When a Non-Medical Face Mask Should Not be Used

  • When it is dirty, ripped/torn or damaged in any way.
  • When it impairs vision or interferes with tasks. 
  • When a respirator (e.g., N95 filtering facepiece, half facepiece or full facepiece) is required as part of assigned personal protective equipment (PPE) and has been approved for performing the work safely (e.g., agricultural workers during spraying pesticides).  

 

How to Wear a Non-Medical Face Mask with Ear Loops or Ties

  • Review and follow the Public Health’s instruction video on “How to wear a non-medical mask or face covering properly”. 
  • Before putting on the mask, wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer with a minimum of 60% alcohol. 
  • Check the mask for damage; if damaged, discard. 
  • Determine the side of the mask. For disposable face masks, the colored side is usually the front (i.e., side that faces out). 
  • Open the mask fully to cover from nose to below the chin. 
  • Place over nose and mouth and secure to your head with ties or ears with ear loops (depending on the style of mask). 
  • If the mask has a nose bar, pinch around your nose to reduce gaps between your face and mask. 
  • Adjust if needed to make sure your nose and mouth are fully covered. 
  • Avoid touching the mask while wearing it; if you need to adjust your mask, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water before and after you touch it. 
  • Keep your nose, mouth and chin covered at all times, until you are ready to remove the mask.
  • Avoid lowering the mask to have it placed against your neck; instead remove and replace if necessary.
Washing hands with hand soapDirty/used non-medical mask is not okayFront of non-medical mask is blue, back is white

Wearing masks with loops on top or bottom and making sure its tight to your nose

 

How to Remove a Non-Medical Face Mask with Ear Loops or Ties

  • Remove your mask if it becomes wet, torn, dirty or damaged. 
  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or apply alcohol-based hand sanitizer with a minimum of 60% alcohol. 
  • Do not touch the front of the mask. Remove using the ties or ear loops. 
  • If it is a reusable cloth mask, place it in a bag that can be emptied into the washing machine. Remember to wash hands or apply alcohol-based hand sanitizer afterward.
  • Ideally, if the supply is sufficient, disposable face masks should not be reused and should be safely discarded after use. Dispose of it in a lined garbage bin and wash hands or apply alcohol-based hand sanitizer afterward.
  • If the supply is limited, disposable face masks may be re-used multiple times within a shift OR even over multiple shifts. For short-term storage within the shift during work breaks, eating or using the restroom, use a closed plastic bag (e.g., “Ziploc” bag) or a sturdy airtight container. If the mask is to be used over multiple shifts, drop the mask in a breathable paper bag at the end of the shift, label the bag with your name and the day it was last used, and wait at least 4 days before using it again. If necessary, rotate disposable masks each day of a work week to allow the 4-day gap between reuses.

Wash hands with soap and remove masks from the loops, not the mask

 

What Not to do with your Non-Medical Face Mask

  • Do not touch your face under the mask.  
  • Do not use a ripped, visibly soiled or wet mask or if the ear loops/ties are damaged. 
  • Do not wear the same mask for a long period of time; it must be changed when it gets damp.
  • Do not share masks with another person.
  • Do not wear the mask below your nose or chin.

 

How to Care for your Non-Medical Face Mask

  • Always store, use, re-use and/or discard your mask in accordance with the directions of the manufacturer, if they are available. 
  • Store your masks in a way that protects them from getting wet, dirty or damaged. 
  • If long-term storage (i.e., 4 days or more) is required for used disposable face masks, store in a dry paper bag labelled with your name and the day it was last used. See “How to remove a non-medical face mask with ear loops or ties” section above for more detail. For short-term storage such as work breaks, a plastic bag (e.g., “Ziploc”) or a sturdy airtight container are preferred.    
  • Identify or label the mask storage bag so the mask is not used by others, accidentally.

 

What to Consider before Making or Buying a Reusable Cloth Mask

  • Type of fabric or cloth 
    • Use multiple layers of tight woven fabric. Minimum 2 layers. 4 layers is optimal.
    • Use a combination of fabrics such as a high thread count cotton (e.g. 600-thread count pillowcases and cotton sheets) with spun-bond polypropylene or polyester. 
    • If possible, use different fabrics or colours for each side of the mask. This helps you to know which side faces your mouth and which side faces out. 
    • Choose a fabric or cloth that can withstand frequent cycles through washing and drying machines.  
  • Laundering  
    • Wash the cloth mask after each use (e.g., after each shift).
    • Place the cloth mask directly into the washing machine or a bag that can be emptied into the washing machine. Throw out (if the bag is disposable) or wash (if the bag is washable) the bag after you have used it to store the used mask. 
    • Launder with other items using a hot cycle, and then dry thoroughly. 
    • Inspect the mask prior to reuse to ensure it has maintained its shape after washing and drying. 
    • Perform hand hygiene immediately after handling a used mask. 
  • Making your own mask 
    • There are many different ways to make a cloth mask. Health Canada provides instructions with sew and no-sew options and includes types of materials you can use. 
  • Buying a cloth mask 
    • You should verify that the mask has multiple layers of fabric, fit securely against your face, allows for clear breathing and has the ability to be laundered.

 

Additional Resources on the Use of Non-Medical Masks

For any concerns or inquiries related to COVID-19 and working safely, please contact Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) at ehs@uoguelph.ca or Occupational Health and Wellness (OHW) at ohw@uoguelph.ca