Alberta's chief medical officer of health is "strongly recommending" that people wear non-medical masks whenever they visit indoor public places where physical distancing may not be possible.
"Masks are part of our personal responsibility to manage the risk for ourselves and for others," Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Monday at a news conference to announce that the province is handing out another 20 million free masks. "Wearing one is the right thing to do."
When used properly, masks can protect others and limit the spread of COVID-19, Hinshaw said.
"I am strongly recommending that all of us wear masks anytime we are out and can't maintain a two-metre distance from others, especially in indoor spaces. Wearing a mask is a common sense precaution that should be part of everyone's new normal."
The Alberta government plans to distribute another 20 million non-medical masks in the second wave of a program that will be expanded to include more outlets for people to get their free personal protective equipment.
Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced the expanded program at the same news conference on Monday.
New case numbers 'concerning,' premier says
Kenney said the province has no target date for Stage 3 of its relaunch plan, adding that the most recent data on the number of new cases was "concerning."
"I would love to get to Phase 3 as quickly as possible but that will be up to how Albertans conduct themselves in the days and weeks to come," he said.
Alberta Health reported one more COVID-19 death on Monday, a man in his 80s from the North zone, bringing the total number of deaths to 161.
The province reported 80 new cases on Sunday, 96 cases on Saturday and 54 on Friday.
As of Monday there were 676 active cases in the province, with 45 people being treated for the illness in hospital, including 10 in ICU beds.
The regional breakdown of active cases by zone:
- Calgary zone: 267 cases.
- Edmonton zone: 199 cases.
- South zone: 110 cases.
- North zone: 53 cases.
- Central zone: 35 cases.
- Unknown: 12 cases.
The premier said the demographics of the illness have changed, with 55 per cent of actives cases now among people under the age of 40.
Alberta is averaging about 7,000 tests per day, Kenney said, and has done far more tests per capita than any other province in Canada.
Masks now available over the counter
In addition to drive-thrus at A&W, McDonald's and Tim Hortons outlets, the program need now hand out masks over the counter in more than 700 restaurants across Alberta, Shandro said.
This time around, the packages will include eight masks, twice as many as packages handed out during the first wave of the program.
Free masks for members of the public will also be distributed to more than 1,000 places of worship.
"A larger number of long-term care and supportive living, seniors facilities, community groups, social service organizations, libraries, court houses and places of worship will be distributing masks to their residents, clients and members," the government said in a news release about the program.
"Municipalities without easy access to a partner restaurant location are again being supplied with masks to distribute to their residents, as are First Nations communities and Métis Settlements."
Four million masks will be provided to 20 transit systems across Alberta, including Calgary and Edmonton, to be used by transit riders.
The first 20 million free masks were distributed by the province in mid-June. At the time, Shandro said the masks are one of the best ways to keep Albertans safe as the economy slowly reopened.
The masks are for situations where physical distancing is difficult to maintain, such as on public transit or while shopping, Shandro said.
Instructions for proper care and use of non-medical masks are available at alberta.ca/masks.