Images of people walking around with medical-style face masks have fed a black market for them, but the sudden popularity hasn’t helped public health in the COVID-19 pandemic, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer says.
Dr. Bonnie Henry has been asked frequently about the value of N95 masks, so named because they stop 95 per cent of particles three microns or bigger. A coronavirus particle is one to two microns in size, and Canadian and U.S. public health authorities don’t recommend them for general consumer use. The standard disposable masks stop most droplets coming out of your mouth, but not virus particles coming in.
“So if I’m not sick, it’s not effective,” Henry said during a TV town hall meeting on the pandemic in Vancouver March 19. “It’s not something that, when I’m out in public, is going to protect me in any way. And as a matter of fact, people often fiddle with it, and contaminate themselves, and it can lead to more risk.”
Henry has written a book called Soap and Water and Common Sense, after working on the SARS pandemic in 2003. She later was involved in ebola outbreaks in Africa that started in 2012.
Health care staff use N95 respirators with eye protection, face visors and gowns when treating people who have tested positive for the coronavirus. N95 respirators are a more tight-fitting mask than the disposable ones commonly seen on streets.
“Where it is incredibly important is in the health care system,” Henry said. “And we need to make sure we have masks and respirators for our health care providers to make sure that they stay safe. And if I am sick, then a mask can help. It can help keep my droplets in so that I’m not infecting others.”
Health Minister Adrian Dix says B.C. has sufficient supplies of protective gear and more on order for people working in health facilities as demand for medical care climbs.
Premier John Horgan warned that the province will “crack down pretty hard” on those trying to buy up and resell disinfectants, masks or other protective gear. B.C.’s emergency authority will be used as necessary to protect public health, he said on the broadcast.
“There’s no space for profiteering in a time of crisis,” Horgan said.