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Provincial health officer clarifies media's mixed messages about merit of masks

Jessica Mitchell, of Salmo, is working with an ad hoc group of more than 650 locals producing cloth face masks.

In Monday's BC COVID-19 press conference, the overall message was urging residents to continue with the vigilant behaviours that are bringing the province more positive outcomes, rather than using recent encouraging numbers as an excuse to relax and become complacent.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she neither requires, nor even recommends, the use of cloth face masks.

"It's a permissive use, if you will," she said, explaining that medical-grade masks and ventilators should be reserved for medical personnel and medical treatment situations, due to the finite supply of same.

She said the concern with non-medical-grade masks is that they give people a false sense of security, making them lax in hand washing, avoiding face touching, and social distancing.

“They (masks) won’t protect you, but they could protect others,” she said, explaining that, should you be a carrier, they’ll help keep your saliva droplets contained. “There are proven things that we know prevent this virus. (Masks are) not an alternative to the things we know work.”

She said now is an absolutely critical time in the progression of the virus in BC, and urged people to continue doing all they can to flatten the curve.

Health Minister Adrian Dix concurred.

“We have to be 100-per-cent all in,” Dix said. “We simply cannot let up – this is a key week we’re going into.”

Many local people, like Trail’s Darelyn Stuart and Salmo’s Jessica Mitchell, are teaming up with others to produce as many cloth masks as they can. The masks have pockets in which you can insert your choice of filter – people are using everything from paper towel to maxi-pads in an effort to create a barrier. Mitchell's Facebook group is called Homemade Masks for Hometown Heroes.

There are also tutorials popping up all over the Internet for people who want to make their own.

Regardless what you choose, Henry said it’s also important to protect our own and each others’ mental health as frustration and fear mount during he pandemic.

“This is our time to be kind, to be calm, and to be safe,” she said.