Health care support staff across Manitoba are calling on Shared Health to update PPE guidelines to reflect the Public Health Agency of Canada’s recognition that COVID-19 can be transmitted through both respiratory droplets and aerosols.

“Shared Health’s PPE guidelines related to N95 masks have not been changed since July,” says Debbie Boissonneault, President of CUPE 204 representing health care support workers within the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) and Shared Health. “Health care support staff are catching COVID-19 at work in unacceptable numbers, so something is not working, and it needs to be changed.”

Yesterday, public officials announced that 16 support staff had been tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 48 hours, and that 476 health care workers have acquired COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. One health care support worker died after contracting COVID-19 at work.

Earlier this month, the Public Health Agency of Canada guidelines were updated to recognize that the virus “spreads through respiratory droplets and aerosols created when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, shouts, or talks.” However, under Shared Health protocols, N95 masks are only provided to health care support staff when a risk assessment is conducted related to whether or not there is an ‘aerosol generating medical procedure taking place.’

“CUPE has been calling for N95 masks to be immediately provided to support workers who are working with COVID positive patients, residents, or clients, and this has not been happening,” said Abe Araya, President of CUPE Manitoba. “Our members are being denied N95s based on outdated protocols, and this needs to be changed now.”

CUPE health care support workers sent a letter to Lanette Siragusa, Provincial Lead Health System Integration & Quality, Chief Nursing Officer for Shared Health, outlining the urgent need to change the policy to reflect current science on the transmission of COVID-19.

CUPE has also filed grievances across the WRHA, Shared Health, Southern Health-Santé Sud, and at Parkview Place calling for stronger PPE.

“Front-line support staff are telling us they are not being protected,’” said Boissonneault. “What we are hearing back from management is ‘grievance denied’.”

CUPE represents approximately 19,000 health care support workers within the WRHA, Shared Health, Northern Regional Health Authority, Southern Health-Santé Sud, and numerous private personal care homes.