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2 years after the start of the pandemic, why don’t all traders receive N-95 masks?

2 years after the start of the pandemic, why don’t all traders receive N-95 masks?

Since Omicron changed the nature of the pandemic, regulations to protect some workers have also changed. For example, most frontline healthcare workers in Ontario must now wear N-95 style masks, which filter out the vast majority of dangerous coronavirus particles.

However, many other industries that regularly deal with the general public have been slow to adapt as quickly as the virus, leaving the people who work there with less protection than they could have had.

For the most part, grocery stores do not require the widespread use of N-95 masks or equivalents, despite growing evidence that fabric masks and other substandard options do little to slow the spread of the fire from forest that is Omicron.

“I believe that anyone who interacts in an indoor space should wear an N-95 mask or the equivalent,” said Dr Anna Wolak, a family doctor and member of a group called Masks for Canada that is pushing for an greater availability and use of things like rapid tests and better masks for everyone.

In an interview, Wolak says that Canada’s impressive vaccination campaign is a valuable tool in managing and hopefully defeating the pandemic one day, but Omicron shows we can’t rely on it alone. “We have to make sure that we use layer after layer upon layer of protection,” she said.

“It definitely needs to be in place before the next variant arrives so we can be better prepared and not get caught up like we’re back in March 2020, that’s what it looks like.”

While Omicron caused another surge in demand that made N-95 and equivalent masks a bit harder to find, before the current wave they were readily available. “The government must ensure that every Canadian has access to them and a fair distribution of masks would go a long way to achieve this,” she said.

Dr Anna Wolak is a member of Masks for Canada, an advocacy group lobbying for Canada to make protective gear such as N-95 masks more widely available. (Submitted by Anna Wolak)

Different policies

London Drugs is a large retail chain that sees value in it. Like many other retailers, the chain of nearly 80 Vancouver-based pharmacies across Canada has implemented a mandatory in-store masking policy since the start of the pandemic, but over time the chain has improved its requirements. for the types of masks she would use “as the science continued to evolve,” company president Clint Mahlman told CBC News in an interview.

Since last summer, the chain has made the N-95 and similar so-called KN-95 masks made with the same materials available and mandatory for all of its staff, whether in stores or at the head office. “It is very clear that we are taking a cautious and preemptive approach,” said Mahlman, adding that they were also selling them to customers in stores.

Under ideal conditions, the N-95 and KN-95 masks filter over 95% of microscopic particles from the air. KF-94, a standard Korean mask, is also considered equivalent and filters over 94 percent. Known as respirators in the medical community, they are made with similar materials, and experts agree that they offer comparable levels of protection when used correctly.

At the start of the pandemic, demand for N95-style masks far exceeded supply in Canada, prompting health officials to urge Canadians not to use them, so they can be made available to them. health workers. But that’s no longer the case, so there’s no reason not to use them more widely, Mahlman said.

“Things are very different today, there are a lot of local Canadian manufacturers that we can get masks from quite easily,” he said. “This availability is a game-changer at this stage of the pandemic. “

WATCH | Why London Drugs provides staff with medical grade masks:

N95 masks ‘game changer’ for retailers, drugstore chain says

Clint Mahlman, president of London Drugs, said it was difficult to get hold of N95 masks at the start of the pandemic, but those supply issues have mostly disappeared, so they’re making them available now to all staff and for customers to buy. 0:25

However, not everyone has the same policy.

CBC News has reached out to some of Canada’s largest retail chains, including Loblaws, Metro and Sobey’s grocery stores, as well as home improvement retailers Rona, Lowe’s and Home Depot. All the companies gave similar explanations of the same sentiment: Their employee mask policies meet all local health regulations, and although the N-95s are available to some of their employees upon request, they are not mandatory for anyone. .

Many provinces, including Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec require masks to be worn in all indoor public spaces, including retailers, but none of these provinces specify the type or quality of face covering. Indeed, some provincial regulations still allow sheet masks, which Dr Wolak says are “basically just face decorations now.”

Some provinces require medical grade N-95 masks to be made available to certain workers in healthcare facilities and long-term care homes, but grocery stores and other retailers are exempt from these requirements.

While many large retailers are not implementing new blanket masking policies, some small retailers have. Dean Robev is the senior store operations manager for Toronto-based Summerhill Market, which has a handful of stores in and around the city.

The company recently implemented a mandatory masking policy that would see all nearly 400 company employees receive KN-95 masks, to be worn whenever they are on the premises.

“We think it’s important that our employees and customers know that we take this seriously and that we are using the highest quality mask available,” said Robev.

To make sure they had enough, the chain recently purchased around 10,000 KN-95 masks, at a cost of around 31 cents per mask. The supplier has informed the company that they are currently out of stock and that every time they have stock again the price will be closer to $ 1 a piece, but in any case, Robev says it is. money well spent.

“I also hear it from customers, when they see us wearing these masks they are delighted that we take it as seriously as we are and they feel safe in our stores,” he said. The masks have helped stores better deal with staff shortages by keeping employees safe and able to work, he said.

Rechev Browne, shown here wearing the type of mask he had before getting a box of N-95, faced some risk in the pandemic, commuting between his home north of Toronto and his job in a western grocery store to finish. (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

Slippage of convenience

The retailers who get them certainly appreciate them. Rechev Browne faces more than his fair share of members of the public on his 45-minute bus ride from his home north of Toronto to his job at a grocery store in the west of the city.

As Canada’s vaccination campaign intensified, he says he has noticed some complacency around other preventative measures against COVID. “Customers have forgotten the whole issue of social distancing,” he said in an interview. “It can be scary coming into work – I’m not normally myself. “

He works at a Loblaws-owned store, so he was given two surgical-style masks at the start of each shift. But last week, his manager handed out a box of N-95 to every employee.

Browne and other retail workers have borne the brunt of COVID exposure more than most, and although he says he’s thankful for the high quality masks he has now, what really helps him get through the current wave is positive thinking.

“I constantly remind myself that nothing lasts forever,” he said. “That too will pass, no matter how frustrating that seems.”

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