It is winter. It’s cold. How do I deal with a mask that gets stuck?

There is a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon. But winter first.

We’ve been hearing the warnings for weeks. It will be a long, hard few months.

People living in Canada model themselves as cold weather warriors – able to withstand temperatures of -20 ° C. This year, that could be a particularly good thing.

Medical experts’ advice is not to go in, where COVID-19 is much more easily transmitted. Bundle, mask if necessary and go outside as much as possible.

“You know, if you’ve ever wanted to learn broom ball, this is your chance,” said Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist at Jewish General Hospital in Montreal and assistant professor at McGill University.

But what about masks in winter? Do they still work when they get wet? Do you really have to wear them outside?

Here’s some advice on how to best tackle the coming winter pandemic months.

Will my mask work if it gets wet and / or freezes?

The short answer is probably not. Oughton, officials at Health Canada and the Centers for Disease Control in the United States pretty much agree that once a mask gets wet, it is no longer fully effective.

And that’s why you should always have spare masks.

There are no concrete, scientific data on the effectiveness of masks in cold weather. However, when you breathe through a mask in cold conditions, the moisture from your warm breath will collect on the mask. It tends to stay warm enough inside due to your body temperature to remain liquid but will freeze on the outside.

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That leads to two mask problems, Oughton said: They become harder to breathe through; and become less effective at “catching breath drops and preventing them from leaving the vicinity of a person’s mouth and nose.”

But that doesn’t mean they are completely useless, said Dr. Zain Chagla, infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and associate professor at McMaster University.

“Masks offer something more [protection], especially in those environments where people gather outside, where there is a little more chance of transmission. “

Oughton said that if you’re going to wear a mask outdoors in the cold for a long time, you should have two or three backups so you can keep a dry mask on.

And most importantly, make sure the mask is made of cloth. The papers – the surgical style – deteriorate and tear much more easily when they get wet, Oughton said.

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Do you really need a mask in the cold?

It depends on the circumstances.

Being outside while observing proper distance measures is “really protective” in itself, according to Chagla. He said the documented cases of COVID-19 transmission outside the home related to situations such as barbecues or people watching a sporting event who were together for extended periods of time.

For activities such as walking in your area or skating on a not-too-busy rink, he said the risk of transmission is very low. But he does recommend that when going in and out of stores, or going up and down while running errands, it’s best to keep the mask on all the time to avoid touching the mask and causing possible contamination. minimum.

The advice is the same if you plan to get together with others during the holidays for an outdoor gift exchange or a short visit. If you can keep your distance, it should be okay as long as you don’t eat, drink, or sing, all of which creates more droplets in the air. If you get closer and want to exchange gifts, it is best to put on a mask.

Wearing a mask in the cold can make it less effective. (Mathieu Theriault / CBC / Radio-Canada)

Is a scarf a good alternative to a mask?

No. Medical experts point out that there is too much variety in scarves and neck caps to use them as masks. The stitching may be too loose and the material too thin to be an effective barrier against potentially infected droplets – outward and inward.

But both doctors agree that it can prevent your mask from freezing and therefore be more comfortable for the wearer to put a scarf over it.

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Unfortunately, people tend to take their mask off or take it off when they sneeze or cough, which defeats its purpose, Chagla said.

“It’s awful to sneeze into a mask,” he said. “I’ll give you that.” But he does urge people to make sure they are in an area away from people if they want to take it off to sneeze or even blow their noses because that’s one of the best ways to get a Spread infection.

And be careful when pulling your mask aside to blow your nose. Don’t let it get snotty, both doctors say, and after blowing your nose, clean your hands before changing your mask.

So with all the masking issues, is it best to just stay indoors this winter?

The resounding answer to this one is no. On the contrary.

“The stuff indoors is a hundred times more concerning than the stuff outdoors,” Chagla said.

He mentions poor ventilation, busy rooms, people who are together for a long time, eating and drinking together.

He said people will have to change their way of thinking about socializing this year if they don’t want to be stuck for months with the people they live with or just have virtual gatherings.

“I think we have to change our attitude and say nature will be the way. We just have to make it fit for people to do it.”

Municipalities across the country have guidelines for outdoor activities, such as ice skating, to make sure it doesn’t get too crowded. Many limit the number of people allowed on the ice at any given time to maintain a safe distance between skaters, and some put in online pre-registration to book Ice Age.

If you go, change your skates in the car or on a couch, rather than in a public cabin, Oughton said.

It’s best to put on your skates outside or in your own car rather than in a public cabin. (Evan Mitsui / CBC News)

In addition to other outdoor measures, so is Toronto a 60 kilometers of paved recreational paths and trails with snow maintenance and encourages communities to apply for permits to build and maintain new ice rinks.

The city of Calgary also adds to its outdoor options with the North Glenmore Ice Trail, where people can skate 730 meters of connected track, and the installation of fire pits in key areas of the city.

Todd Reichardt, a park manager in Calgary, said the plans should enable people to maintain a social distance and make the most of the season.

“There’s something about being outside when it’s cold and you smell like wood smoke,” he said. “It just puts a smile on people’s faces.”

In Manitoba, ski resorts have been working on plans to make skiing a safe pandemic activity, while Montreal is setting up cross-country trails in each of the city’s major parks, as well as trails for snowshoeing and hiking.

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