Despite a provincial order saying they have a right to ask for the N95 masks and get one when dealing with a suspected or presumed case of COVID-19, Peel long-term care staff are still being denied access to them, the union representing 900 front-line staff at four Peel Region municipal homes says.

“Even with evidence that shows the new COVID-19 variants are potentially more contagious, just recently a Sheridan Villa personal support worker (PSW) was denied an N95 mask. That means that both the PSW and the residents she cares for were denied the additional protection an N95 mask would afford them. This practice must not continue,” said Salil Ayra the president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 966.

The risk of COVID-19 infection for long-term care and other health care staff is well documented in the pandemic. More than 18,500 Ontario health care workers have contracted the virus.

Recent research on the variant strains shows they are more infectious and possibly more deadly. There is also increasing evidence that COVID-19 transmission is airborne. Last week Quebec’s workplace safety board announced it is requiring health care workers in long-term care homes, hospitals, and other hot zones health care settings to wear N95 face masks, or models with even better protection. 

In the pandemic’s first wave, Peel LTC staff were denied access to N95s and CUPE 966 challenged that through the grievance process.

“Unfortunately, Peel Region is stalling dealing with the grievance. And this is not acceptable. Care staff’s health and safety being put at risk in this way is irresponsible,” says Ayra. “In addition, it is counter to a provincial directive that says staff have the right to ask and receive an N95 mask when there is even a suspected case of COVID-19 at the home.”

Ontario’s COVID-19 - Directive #5 says that health care staff can access an N95 respirator when in contact with a suspect, probable or confirmed case where 2 meters distance can’t be assured.

“Controlling infection spread and increasing safety at our homes must be a bigger priority for Peel Region LTC managers,” says Ayra who is also concerned about exposure for Peel homes’ laundry staff. “They are no different than other staff – they are also at risk of infection and warrant access to higher level PPE.”

Recently hundreds of Canadian health-care professionals, engineers, scientists, and citizens signed an open letter to premiers, public health officials and the federal government, demanding action to address the risk of COVID-19 transmission through inhaled aerosols.