covid 19 faq

Should I wear a mask to the grocery store and other FAQs about COVID-19 in Canada

With new advice about  COVID-19 in Canada coming out daily, it's hard to know what to listen to. 

The main advice is still keep away from others, wash your hands regularly, don't touch your face and cough into your elbow or a tissue. 

But what about everything else?  

I decided to look into some of Canadians most frequently asked questions and see what the advice from government and experts had to say. 

Here's what we found. 

Should I wear a mask to the grocery store in Canada?

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, along with the Public Health Agency of Canada and the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) have said masks – both medical and non-medical – can be effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

But it's worth noting that they don't protect you from the virus. Rather, they're an "additional measure" to protect other people around you. 

So whether you wear one or not is entirely up to you, and it is not a replacement measure for physical distancing or hand washing. 

When should I be wearing a face mask in Canada?

You only need to wear a face mask if you have coronavirus or are taking care of someone with the disease. 

However, according to the latest advice from Public Health Agency Canada wearing a mask in public places where instances where physical distancing is difficult is one way to protect the people around you. 

"With the emerging information regarding pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission, and our goal to stop the spread of COVID-19 by all means possible, wearing a non-medical mask—even if you have no symptoms―is an additional measure you can take to try to protect others around you," wrote the Public Health Agency in a statement on Tuesday. 

What type of face mask should I use?

There are two types of masks: medical and non-medical. 

Medical masks, such as the N95 mask which filters air particles, need to be reserved for healthcare workers. There's already a global shortage.  

But if you're looking to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by stopping yourself from "speaking moistly", as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, any type of material that covers your mouth and nose will do. You can make this type of mask with a bandana, scarf or some other type of cloth material. 

The CDC actually has a great guide on how to make a no-sew homemade cloth mask from a T-shirt.

According to the CDC, the main things the mask needs to do to be an effective barrier is:

  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be secured with ties or ear loops
  • include multiple layers of fabric
  • allow for breathing without restriction
  • be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

And, according to experts, it also must cover both your mouth and nose.   

Should I disinfect, sanitize, wash or wipe down my groceries?

For the vulnerable population, wiping down packaging might be a good precautionary idea, since there's evidence that suggests coronavirus can live on plastic for 72 hours

Experts also recommend discarding packaging before bringing products into your home as a way to minimize risk. But truthfully there still isn't enough evidence to say whether or not you can get sick from a box of cereal. 

“There is no evidence of human or animal food or food packaging being associated with transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, in a statement on the Food and Drug Administration’s website.

Also the United States Department of Agriculture confirmed food and food packaging is safe. 

One thing you shouldn't do is clean your produce with chemicals. There's a greater chance of you getting sick from ingesting a Lysol covered apple than getting coronavirus. 

Should I microwave my mail?

While there is some evidence to suggest the virus can live on cardboard for up to 24 hours, the chances of you being infected from your mail are very minimal.

Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist at Trillium Health Partners, told CBC to open your mail the way you normally would, but just try to avoid touching your face and wash your hands after. 

How long does coronavirus live on different surfaces?

The latest research is mixed on this, but according to a recent study by U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, how long the virus can survive depends on the surface. The study found that viable virus –aka still infectious – could be detected on:

  • Plastic or stainless steel for up to three days.
  • Cardboard for 24 hours.
  • Copper for four hours.

But it's worth noting that the amount of "viable virus" drops faster than that and you need to be exposed to a certain amount before you become infected.  It also depends on how much of the virus is on the surface. 

Can pets get COVID-19?

There is little to no data to suggest that pets can get coronavirus. The CDC says it's rare. That being said, until there is more research it's worth exercising caution around pets. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends anyone who has COVID-19 should "limit contact" with their pet.  

Is it safe to take Ibuprofen?

Yeah, probably. 

The doubts surrounding ibuprofen came after a letter was published in the medical journal The Lancet, suggesting that some drugs, such as ibuprofen, can make it easier for COVID-19 to infect cells. But this wasn't based on any actual evidence or a study.

What cleaning products will kill the virus?

Cleaning products that kill coronavirus include soap and water, bleach, and any products with higher than 70% alcohol.

As for what to clean, experts recommend cleaning high-use areas – so kitchens, bathrooms etc. Also don't forget about high-touch areas like light switches, taps and door knobs. 

Will wearing gloves protect me?

There is no evidence to suggest wearing gloves will help protect you from the virus when going out for essential items. As long as you're washing your hands regularly, you will be fine. 

In fact, there's some experts think it wearing gloves offers a false sense of security and can encourage the transmission of the virus.

The CDC only recommends wearing gloves while caring for someone who has COVID-19. 

Is take-out safe?

Yes. One, there isn't any evidence to suggest that food has transmitted the coronavirus. 

Two, most restaurants that are taking extra steps to make sure their staff and customers are safe during the outbreak.  

Three, even if coronavirus did somehow get into your food there's a number steps in the cooking process that make transmission really unlikely.  

Just remember to wash your hands after you take the food out of the packaging and before you eat. 

How long will the coronavirus pandemic last?

There's no good answer for this. Previous pandemics have lasted between 12 and 36 months but no one can say for sure if that's the timeline we're looking at for COVID-19. A lot depends on if we can successfully flatten the curve, if a vaccine gets approved, among other things. 

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday: "Normality, as it was before, will not come back full-on until we get a vaccine for this, and … that could be a very long way off.” 

So we hope you have a comfy couch because we're gonna be here for a while. 

Lead photo by

Alex Gridenko

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