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And now, a public service announcement

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As Alberta, Saskatchewan, and parts of BC are all facing the worse periods of the pandemic, raise your hands if you’re just a little surprised that Ontario is actually… doing OK? Those places are lessons in what not to do (dropping all restrictions, declaring the pandemic over, going on vacation and doing nothing while cases rise exponentially: Bad idea. Noted!). Ontario is in a better place because they were more cautious in reopening.

So if vaccinated, it’s good to get out and enjoy the efforts that have been made. But it’s also important to stay cautious, especially until kids under 12 can also be vaccinated. This post is about a couple more tools you can consider for containing the spread, without hiding in your basement.

Rapid tests

Wondering if your slightly stuffy nose is just allergies, a cold, too much dairy… Or something else?

A bit overwhelmed with worry since that stranger coughed in your direction, or you attended that crowded event?

Love visiting your friend who has recovered from cancer, or your grandma, but always slightly concerned that you might be asymptomatic but contagious when doing so?

Wouldn’t it be nice to just take a quick nose snab test Covid test, instead of trying to get a full PCR test (that you might not qualify for anyway) or just living with the worry?

In much of Europe, in Nova Scotia, you totally can. Rapid tests are widely available to the public at low cost.

Rapid test kit

In most of Ontario, the government offers free rapid tests only to larger businesses, which benefits only those who happen to work for those companies.

The one exception is Waterloo Region, which is piloting a StaySafe Rapid Antigen Screening Program. It has five components:

  • Free rapid testing clinics, no appointment required
  • Screening kits for businesses with 150 or fewer employees who want to run their own program
  • Full-service screening for small businesses that can’t run their own program
  • Supplies of rapid tests available to individuals who promise to promote the program
  • Kits for running your own popup testing service for a sports team, community group, or association

I think this is terrific, and from what I’m seeing on Twitter, it’s the envy of people elsewhere in Ontario. So I decided to sign up to get my own supply of tests, and I’m hereby promoting it as promised (though I’ll also have to tweet this, because who reads blogs anymore!).

So far I’ve used them:

  • Before a family gathering
  • Before meeting in person with coworkers
  • A few days after a slightly-more-crowded-than-I-liked indoor meal

And I’ve lent a couple to a friend who wanted assurance that his kids did in fact just have a cold.

The tests are not difficult to do, but also not intuitive—I did have to watch the video and read the instructions. They require nasal swabbing, but only of the lower portion of the nose, so it’s not uncomfortable.

The first time, I got a bit freaked about this red streak that spreads across the test paper initially—I feared I had given myself a nose bleed somehow. But no, that’s just how it works.

You wait 15 minutes, then if there’s only one line on the left, it’s a presumed negative test. Two lines and you should isolate, then go for a PCR test to confirm. The particular strength of these tests is telling you whether you’re infectious right now. The PCR test can detect presence of Covid over a longer period, including past the point that you’re actively infectious.

It’s really great these tests are available in my town, but I don’t see why they can’t be made as available to everyone in the province. No idea how long this pilot is supposed to run, or when it might be declared enough of a success to make that happen. Hopefully I’m helping on some way.

N95 masks

In crowded indoor settings, masks remain the best option for protecting yourself and others. But type and fit matter. A fitted three-ply cotton mask is good, as are type 2 or 3 surgical masks. But top of the line are the respirator types—KN95, KF94, and N95.

Differences between N95, KN95, and KF94 masks

Only if they fit your face, though, and personally, I cannot find a KN95 that does. They all gap at the sides. Also, there’s a big quality problem with KN95s, as reported by Marketplace. Hard to be sure you’re buying a good one.

KF94s fit me better, especially in youth size, and there aren’t as many fakes of those ones. But they are not easy to find! The only place I’ve had luck purchasing them is from Amazon, and they’re often expensive (and not always available in youth size).

So I was pretty happy that the local Canadian Shield company has partnered with Eclipse Innovations to make N95 quality masks available, at, for about $1 each. They offer two styles, one in three sizes, the other in two, and they have guidance on their site on how to measure your face to get the right size.

I went with the Horizon Surgical Respirator in regular size. I have never had a better fitting mask. My glasses don’t fog up at all. The mask is quite comfortable and easy to breath through. (Although Jean also uses them, same size, and notes that with time, they get less easy to breathe through, as they really do trap particles!)

The mask does involve two straps on the back of your head, making it a bit involved to put on and therefore, in my opinion, not really worth it for a short trip to the store, or for any occasion (like a restaurant) where you expect to be taking it off and putting it back on repeatedly. You also can’t wear it to the hairdresser! But, it can certainly give you piece of mind at something like a crowded concert or sporting event or eventual return to the office.

Canadian Shield also sells good-quality surgical masks, and will soon offer biodegradable masks:

The Canadian Shield Biomask info graphic

One thought on “And now, a public service announcement

  1. Pingback: Taking the vax pass for a spin | Cultureguru's Weblog

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