New masks don’t seal union representing frontline workers in Alberta says

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) is slamming the provincial government over “shoddy” surgical masks for front line workers amid COVID-19.

Workers are reporting the new surgical masks do not seal their faces properly, pinch their noses and straps that fall apart during patient care, AUPE vice president Susan Slade said.

Many workers have also experienced nausea, headaches, skin rashes and throat irritation after wearing the masks, which have an unpleasant and overwhelming odour. Some sites have started sending stock back.

“This is the kind of delay we absolutely can’t afford,” said Slade. “Our political leaders need to understand that in a pandemic every second counts. Every glitch adds up. And it puts lives at risk.”

“The only way we can truly ensure quality control and timely distribution of PPE is if it’s manufactured in-house, in Alberta, and overseen by a public body. This is what our union wants to see, and it’s what Albertans deserve.”

Slade says otherwise, brave frontline workers and the sick Albertans they’re trying to support pay the price.

AUPE said the agency has heard of complaints since last week when personal protective equipment deliveries arrived at AHS facilities.

Since then, health-care workers from multiple sites have taken to social media calling out poor craftsmanship of PPE.

Alberta Health Services said the agency is aware of the concerns expressed by front line workers.

“Some of the new supplies of PPE are different to what our frontline care providers are used to.

“We acknowledge that this is causing problems, such as irritation. We want to reassure our staff that the masks are all safe, certified, and meet ATSM Level 1 filtration requirements.

“But, we also want them to know we are working hard to fix the problems staff are having.”

AHS said future shipments from the supplier will include corrections to the nose piece and one-centimetre increase in size to improve the fit.

“We are also working on addressing specific concerns about odor from one new model of mask deployed.

AHS said some of the procedure masks from a new supplier are sealed in a plastic covering immediately after manufacturing to prevent from contamination. This creates a smell as the masks are sealed immediately after they come off the production cycle.

The agency is working on an internal process to remove the the masks from plastic before being distributed, as this will reduce the smell before use.

The NDP government is questioning UCP’s decision to send personal protective equipment to other provinces a little over a week ago.

“These questions cannot be ignored, especially when they’re coming from the very Albertans who will help us flatten the curve and come out of this pandemic stronger,” said David Shepherd, NDP Opposition Critic for Health.

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