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What’s in a mask?

Personal · Dec 1, 2020

When I wear a mask, I think of the time I cared for Joseph, a person living with blood cancer. Prior to his life-altering diagnosis, Joseph was a welder and dedicated volunteer for a community food bank. I remember our medical care for Joseph and his family, but also the day-to-day measures we all took to keep Joseph safe throughout his treatment. I remember walking into his room, realizing how careful we all had to be to not accidentally give Joseph an infection he couldn’t fight off. One of our key measures was wearing a mask. Masks gave us some protection as visitors, but the point was to protect Joseph.

Masks are common in healthcare, and can be lifesaving for people like Joseph. It was no surprise when we started to see that masks could also prevent day-to-day spread of the COVID-19 virus. I recall the day vividly: Phil Moore, Chair of our TELUS Emergency Management Operating Committee, and Tricia Eng, Senior Strategy Manager, had just finished a discussion with our Medical Advisory Council around our pandemic safety playbooks. During the previous weeks, Tricia, Phil and I were carefully monitoring the emerging science on masks, and how countries like Taiwan were using masks proactively to slow COVID-19. “It’s time,” the three of us realized as the call ended. Thus sparked a forward-thinking policy for universal masking among our teams and customers.

It was a relief when, several weeks later, we heard leaders throughout Canada follow our conclusion: masks in all public places would save lives.

How do masks protect us and others?

For Joseph, it was my duty to wear a mask as a key layer of protection. In COVID-19, that responsibility to stop the spread extends to all of us: to protect people like Joseph, our loved ones and the loved ones of others in our community.

When we speak, breathe or sing, our mouths and noses release droplets of various sizes that can spread several metres to others. When we get infected, we have a few days where we can spread COVID-19 but not show any symptoms. Masks work by keeping our droplets close to us and away from others, even before we know we’re contagious.

Although the why is the same, I have seen remarkable creativity in the how. Masks come in different fabrics, patterns and colours. The bottom line is, most types of mask work for the purpose of keeping our own droplets close, especially when we can also keep several metres of distance. Look for a mask with a tight fabric weave and multiple layers. If you expect to be in a place that is indoors and crowded, you can consider using a surgical mask or a mask with a built-in or insertable filter.

Masks are key to keeping our communities safe

Every time we wear a mask, it matters. At my family practice and the hospital, I make a point to wear a mask each time I go out in public. By wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance from others and washing my hands, I can be confident that I do not spread to others on my way to work. Even if I prevent one person from getting infected, that will stop them from infecting someone else, who may have infected someone else, and so forth. A simple mask can prevent a chain of infection and could lead to a life (or more) saved.

Each act of protection adds up. If we all wear masks, projections show that we can prevent thousands of infections in Canada as soon as February 2021. That’s thousands of people like Joseph, our loved ones or other members of our community, who we can protect until a vaccine arrives.

At TELUS, our masks are a force for good

When we introduced masks at TELUS, we realized their potential to be a force for good. In my time as a health advisor to our teams, I have been especially proud of our dedication to COVID-19 social purpose efforts like masks.

Not only were we one of the first Canadian organizations to support universal masking, our made-in-Canada critter masks continue to make a difference throughout Canada. To date, we have:

  • Raised nearly $400,000 in support of our TELUS Friendly Future Foundation’s efforts toward bringing relief to Canadians in a social and public health crisis; and

  • Distributed more than 350,000 masks to help Canadians stay safe during the pandemic.

So, when someone asks me what a mask is made of, I know that it is so much more than just fabric. I think of Joseph, and the countless others we protect by wearing a mask. Masks are a symbol for the acts of kindness Canadians continue to do for their communities.


Additional resources

There are many resources available to help you protect yourself and those around you:

  • Check out our brand new holiday-themed TELUS critter mask three-packs just added to


  • Download and use the Government of Canada’s COVID Alert app to help limit the spread of the virus and help prevent future outbreaks. Even if the app is not available in your province, downloading it now will ensure you are ready when it does launch in your area.

Authored by:
Dr. Dominik Nowak
Chair, TELUS Medical Advisory Council