CALGARY -- The province's top doctor has softened her stance on Albertans wearing masks when out in public, saying the use of masks may have some added benefit, but only when combined with all of the other procedures currently in place to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

"What we know is that people who are sick spread illness," Dr. Deena Hinshaw said at Monday's provincial briefing. "We also know that with even more asymptomatic transmission happening that we previously thought, all of the recommendations we have made … are more important than ever."

On Friday, Alberta Health Services said medical masks should only be worn in public if the person is sick, however hours later, Hinshaw amended the statement to say "masks can be considered."

Hinshaw said Monday the AHS recommendations are based on a review of the best evidence possibile at the time, and they are continually assessing that evidence to see if further changes are necessary.

Safe use of homemade masks

"Wearing a non-medical mask, such as a homemade cloth mask, has not been proven to protect the person who is wearing it," she said Monday. "However, it may be helpful in protecting others around you."

Face coverings and masks help prevent transmission of the virus by containing respiratory droplets that might be produced by people speaking, and prevent them from contaminating other people or surfaces, Hinshaw said.

Wearing a mask can also be a good reminder for people to not touch their faces when out in public.

Homemade masks and face coverings should be fitted and not gape at the sides and people need to be aware masks can become contaminated on the outside — moving or adjusting the mask increases this risk.

"Cloth masks should be worn only a short time as there is some evidence they can trap virus particles after they become damp, which may put the wearer at greater risk of being infected," Hinshaw said.

At the briefing, Premier Jason Kenney went so far as to say the Government of Alberta is undertaking a mask procurement of non-medical masks for future use by the general public, but did not offer any further details.

Kenney also listed the following steps to ensure proper use of homemade and cloth masks:

  • Avoid touching your face mask while using it.
  • Wash hands before putting on a mask, then before and after removing it.
  • Clean a cloth mask as soon as it gets damp or soiled.
  • Put it directly in the washing machine or a bag that can be emptied into the washing machine and then be disposed of.
  • Cloth masks can be laundered with other items using a hot cycle, then dried in the dryer at the highest temperature setting.
  • Medical masks can't be washed and should be discarded and replaced as soon as they get damp, soiled or crumpled.
  • Dispose of these masks in a lined garbage bin.