With time, more information about COVID-19 is coming to light. About two weeks ago, Nunavut’s chief public health officer said masks are effective only for health care staff and individuals, who are coughing. During Tuesday’s press conference, Dr. Michael Patterson painted a different picture for the usage of masks based on new evidence.

The new recommendation is to wear a cloth mask in situations where COVID-19 is around and physical distancing and social distancing are difficult to maintain.

However, wearing a mask does not protect an individual from getting COVID-19, emphasized Patterson.

Iqaluit resident Mike Misa Aliyak wears a mask due to COVID-19 concerns. Wearing a cloth mask does not protect an individual from getting COVID-19, but it may slow the spread of the virus, says Nunavut’s top doctor. photo courtesy of Mary-Lee Aliyak

“If I wear a mask, it does not protect me from getting it from the people around me. What it does is it makes it less likely that I will spread COVID-19 if I happen to have it,” said the doctor.

“We don’t want masks to create another false sense of security,” he said, adding that people should not forget about social distancing and washing their hands.

In other words, a cloth mask should be used in addition to other precautions like handwashing and social distancing, not as a replacement for them.

“At the very best, masks are one part of a number of things that people should be doing to slow or stop the transmission of COVID-19,” explained the chief public health officer.

There is now also “increasingly strong evidence” that some individuals are transmitting the virus before developing any symptoms, said Patterson. These individuals are being referred to as presymptomic.

If an individual is tested positive for COVID-19, for contact tracing purposes, many jurisdictions are now backtracking 48 hours from when the individual first exhibited symptoms.

“So if you develop symptoms on Thursday the tenth we’d go back to Tuesday the eighth and start contact tracing from that time,” explained Patterson.

Individuals who get exposed to the virus and test positive but never develop any symptoms are called asymptomatic.

At the moment, whether asymptomatic individuals transmit the virus “that’s less certain,” said Patterson.

The question still remains how much of the COVID-19 pandemic is being driven by these different stages of infection, said Nunavut’s top doctor.

“If we were to focus solely on symptomatic transmission, then we’d probably deal with the outbreak but it would take a little bit more time. If we can deal with presymptomatic and symptomatic, we’ll have a much better chance of planking the curve early,” said Patterson.

Presently for Nunavut the count for COVID-19 cases still sits at zero.

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