In new advice, NWT says wear a cloth mask while out in public

Emily MacLean sent these photos of her efforts sewing homemade masks non-stop in Fort Resolution
Emily MacLean sent these photos of her efforts sewing homemade masks in Fort Resolution.

The NWT’s chief public health officer, moving with changing global advice on the wearing of masks, now recommends residents use cloth face coverings while in public places.

Dr Kami Kandola’s office made the recommendation in an advisory issued on Tuesday afternoon. The coverings can be disposable or reusable. They are being billed by the NWT as “a way to help each other help ourselves.”

Importantly, all the other recommendations stay the same. You still need to maintain physical distancing, avoid gatherings, wash your hands a lot, and try not to touch your face.

Initially, global health authorities had urged caution in using cloth face masks as most types of cloth are quite porous, meaning they can’t fully obstruct tiny virus particles. It’s still easy to get sick while wearing one.



Last week, the federal government said homemade masks “may not be effective in blocking virus particles that may be transmitted by coughing, sneezing, or certain medical procedures [and] do not provide complete protection from the coronavirus.”

More: Read the NWT government’s new advice in full

However, even in the space of a week, advice on masks has evolved.

On Monday, Dr Theresa Tam – the federal government’s chief public health officer – said homemade masks were now considered “an additional measure you can take to protect others around you.”



Dr Tam warned a homemade mask is unlikely to protect you if you are wearing one, but might help to protect others around you.

“A non-medical mask can reduce the chance of your respiratory droplets coming into contact with others or landing on surfaces,” Tam told reporters.

“The science is not certain but we need to do everything we can, and it seems a sensible thing to do.”

In other words, wearing a mask will help stop you spreading the virus that causes Covid-19 if it turns out you had it but didn’t know. (Not all people infected with coronavirus have symptoms.)

Not for very young children

Dr Kandola’s office, announcing the NWT’s new advice on Tuesday, said the guidance was different for employers and for young children.

“Employers are responsible for completing their own risk assessments, having their own exposure control plans, and providing the right protective equipment based on those assessments,” read a statement, instructing employers to consult the Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission “as needed.”

“Non-medical masks or facial coverings should not be placed on young children under age two, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance,” the statement continued.

Some NWT residents have already started creating homemade masks.



Even while global authorities remained uncertain about their helpfulness in the pandemic – and before her community reported a case of Covid-19 last week – part-time sewing teacher Emily MacLean had started work on masks in Fort Resolution.

She told Cabin Radio she was doing what she could for people who had no access to anything else, dropping them off at their door as she made her grocery trips.

“It’s my hobby,” said MacLean last month. “I can’t really go out anywhere, so [making masks] keeps me busy.”

How do I make a mask?

The NWT government recommends, at minimum, two 100-percent cotton strips, each 10 inches long and six inches wide. You can use a cotton blend if you don’t have 100-percent cotton available. Polyester and nylon are not recommended.

You’ll need some extra fabric, or elastic bands, to create the loops that go around your ears and attach the mask to your face.

You can also make masks using supplies likefacial tissue, paper towel, or coffee filters. Some methods of creating masks require sewing machines. Others don’t require them.

The NWT government provided links to two websites offering tutorials. The first, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA, provides walkthroughs for creating masks that are either sewn or don’t involve sewing.

The second link, from a Hong Kong hospital, provides a video walkthrough set to peppy music designed to distract you from the fact you’re creating a mask to help nearby people survive a pandemic.

If your homemade cloth mask is going to be any use at all, it has to do the following:

  • be secured with ties or ear loops and fit snugly but comfortably against the side of your face – no flapping around;
  • include multiple layers of fabric but still allow you to breathe normally; and
  • survive washing and machine drying without getting damaged or changing its shape.

If you follow the instructions to make a disposable mask with tissue, paper towels, or coffee filters, make sure you only use those materials once then throw them out after each use.