Dr. Shahab: Sask. residents should get used to wearing non-medical masks

Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab. (Screenshot)

All Saskatchewan residents should consider wearing masks, especially when they’re in places where social distancing isn’t guaranteed, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer said Tuesday.

Dr. Saqib Shahab’s comments came during Tuesday’s media briefing about Phase 4.2 of the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan, which is set for Monday, June 29.

As a part of updated reopening guidelines, employees of certain businesses that come closer than two metres away from clients are mandated to wear a non-medical mask.

Vulnerable or immunocompromised employees should wear a procedural or surgical mask, the province said.

That includes workers at restaurants, gyms and other personal services.

But it’s not just workers who should consider mask use.

“Giving that space is important,” Shahab said.

“In a setting where you feel you won’t likely keep that two-metre distance, always keeping that mask in your pocket is a good thing, to put it on if you can’t maintain that separation.”

He recommends that every resident keep one or two reusable non-medical masks with them for use on the bus or at stores where keeping that distance isn’t possible.

Some non-medical masks, such as cloth masks, can be washed and removed.

The guidance on mask-wearing comes as other controls are relaxed.

“There is a hierarchy of controls,” Shahab explained. “The first is to not engage in activities. Then there are administrative controls — doing it in a way where there’s less crowding.”

He also pointed to engineered controls, such as plexiglass shields used at checkout counters.

“All of those layers are important.”

The most important thing, he said, is maintaining physical distance. It’s when you can’t that an extra layer of protection might be needed.

Wearing a mask, though, is no excuse to come closer than two metres. While Canadian officials haven’t always called for mask usage, Shahab said he expects Saskatchewan residents will pick up the practice, just as they’ve learned how to physically distance.

“We need to make it clear that this is a marathon, 12 to 18 months,” Shahab said.

“When I go out for walks, and I’m sure no one is going to be even five metres away from me, I’m not going to wear a mask because why should I? I can guarantee that I’m not a risk to anyone and no one is a risk to me. As we go into other settings, it should make sense to wear a mask. There’s lots of good evidence … that mask use can reduce transmission significantly.”

Shahab said the pandemic will continue for months until a vaccine is created or until it slowly runs out of hosts and dies out.

He said if new cases pop up later this year, there likely won’t be the same sort of shut down as seen in the spring.

That makes the guidelines around mask-wearing that much more important.

He said while events happen outside in the summer, they won’t be needed as much, but residents should get used to wearing one.

“Where we keep it, how we take it on and off properly — we shouldn’t be fidgeting all the time … those are some habits we need to get used to practicing,” he said.

“In the fall as we move indoors, this is going to be something very important or us to be aware of and thinking of. All of us need to think about what kind of mask we want to get for ourselves and our family members. All of us need to be comfortable about how and when we’ll use masks. I think it’s good to start thinking about that.”

The province, so far, has no plans to give away masks to residents, like has been done through a partnership with drive-thru operators in Alberta. Shahab said many people make cloth masks for sale, and added that he tried to make some himself at home, but that it didn’t work out well.