Vivek Goel's COVID-19 podcast (Ep. 4): Should you wear a mask?

(photo by Sebastian Condrea via Getty Images)

With governments around the world scrambling to acquire personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and gowns for health-care workers, many people are asking the question: Should the rest of us be wearing masks, too?

“If you're practising social distancing, keeping two metres away, washing your hands frequently and not making personal contact, the risk of transmission is extremely low and wearing a mask will not add much further benefit,” says Vivek Goel, the University of Toronto’s vice-president, research and innovation, and strategic initiatives, and a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

COVID-19: What’s Next is a bi-weekly podcast created by Goel in collaboration with a University of Toronto Communications team led by producer Lisa Lightbourn.

In episode four, Goel – a renowned public health expert and founding head of Public Health Ontario, which was set up in response to the 2003 SARS outbreak – explains how the virus is spread, why surgical masks should be left for health-care professionals and what you should keep in mind if you choose to wear a home-made mask.

“Following recording of this podcast Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, updated guidance on wearing of non-medical masks based on evolving scientific research,” Goel says. “There is some evidence of transmission from asymptomatic individuals, although much work needs to be done to fully understand this. In light of this, Dr. Tam has stated that wearing a non-medical mask in situations where it is not possible to practice physical distancing could be of use to prevent the transmission of disease, for example in an elevator. 

“Of note, the wearing of a mask in such a situation is to prevent an asymptomatic carrier of disease from infecting others; it does not provide benefit to the wearer of the mask. The overall advice in the podcast remains unchanged: Do not go out if you are symptomatic, practise social distancing and wash your hands frequently, and do not use medical masks if you choose to wear a mask.”  

Note: The information in this podcast is current as of the posting date. Listeners should consult their local public health agency for the latest information in their jurisdiction.

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