A view of the Red River shores in downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba in 2014 (AFP / Michel Comte)

Outdated guidance on masks circulates on Facebook in Manitoba

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Facebook posts shared hundreds of times in Manitoba claim that the official guidance from Canada’s central province on mask-wearing states it is ineffective at preventing illnesses like the novel coronavirus. The posts feature an image of a document from February 2020 and do not reflect the provincial health department's current advice on wearing masks to help slow the spread of Covid-19.

“It is not clear there is any significant benefit to wearing masks to prevent influenza or influenza-like-illnesses (including Covid-19) in a community setting,” reads the circled portion of an advisory from the government of Manitoba shared in Facebook posts in late August 2020.

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken on August 31, 2020

The information is no longer current, according to provincial spokeswoman Julie Kentner.

“This document was produced by the Manitoba government in February 2020 and reflects public health advice at the time. As the data and research around Covid-19 has grown, public health advice has changed,” she said in an email.

The Pan-Canada Public Health Network, a group of Canadian government officials supported by experts who work together to strengthen and enhance public health, explains that “Covid-19 is spread through contact with the respiratory droplets produced by infected individuals when they cough, sneeze, or even when they laugh or speak, including by individuals who have not yet or who may never develop symptoms.”

One of the misleading Facebook posts offers this PDF link as evidence, but the document cannot currently be found on the server. 

Screenshot taken on August 31, 2020 of a dead link on the Manitoba government website

However, it does point to a version in French which made the same claim and was dated February 2020, confirming Kentner’s response.

Manitoba last updated its mask guidance on August 25, 2020 to say: “The evidence supporting the use of homemade (cloth) masks continues to evolve. Presently, wearing homemade masks in settings where physical distancing is not possible is a reasonable measure in combination with other precautions. While homemade masks may prevent the spread of respiratory droplets from the wearer to others, they may not protect the wearer from exposure to the respiratory droplets from others.” 

Health Canada also recommends mask wearing, particularly in stores and on public transportation.

As part of Manitoba’s plans to safely reopen the province, most areas are currently designated yellow or “caution” level as there were only 14 deaths from Covid-19 as of August 31, 2020.

Dr Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, has designated the Prairie Mountain Health region orange or “restricted” level which requires individuals to “wear a mask in all indoor public places and at all public gatherings (indoor and outdoor).”

Screenshot of the government of Manitoba website showing restrictions for the Prairie Mountain Health region as of August 31, 2020

Exceptions to the requirement include children under five years old and any person unable to remove the mask without assistance.

Screenshot taken on August 31, 2020 of the government of Manitoba’s website on Covid-19

The province also announced in August 2020 that “non-medical masks are required in schools for students in Grades 4 to 12 as well as teachers, staff and visitors, when physical distancing of two metres is not possible.”