On­tario wants to change PPE di­rec­tive for long-term-care work­ers, union says

CUPE says it was told that N95 masks aren’t nec­es­sary in ev­ery set­ting

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Canada & World - SHAWN JEFFORDS AND AL­LI­SON JONES THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

TORONTO—On­tario is try­ing to “wa­ter down” guide­lines that give health-care work­ers in long-term-care homes ac­cess to N95 masks, the union rep­re­sent­ing them said Fri­day, while Premier Doug Ford in­sisted pro­tec­tive equip­ment is avail­able to the work­ers.

The prov­ince asked the Cana­dian Union of Public Em­ploy­ees (CUPE) to be­gin dis­cus­sions about re­mov­ing that ac­cess from the provin­cial rules be­cause it be­lieved the masks weren’t nec­es­sary in ev­ery set­ting in the fa­cil­i­ties, the union said.

On­tario is also seek­ing to con­trol use of the lim­ited sup­ply of the masks, the prov­ince’s health min­is­ter ac­knowl­edged Fri­day.

The N95 masks block aerosolize­d virus par­ti­cles and of­fer bet­ter pro­tec­tion than sur­gi­cal masks cur­rently in use, said Can­dace Ren­nick, the union’s sec­re­tary-trea­surer and a for­mer per­sonal sup­port worker. “We woke up (Thurs­day) morn­ing to one of our mem­bers who has just died of COVID on the front line, and you want to talk to us about wa­ter­ing down what we con­sider al­ready weak pro­tec­tions for the front line,” she said. “It’s a bit of­fen­sive.”

More than 1,700 work­ers in the prov­ince’s long-term-care homes have tested pos­i­tive for COVID-19, and at least four have died from the ill­ness, ac­cord­ing to provin­cial data. CUPE, which rep­re­sents 35,000 long-term-care work­ers, said the lat­est fa­tal­ity was a per­sonal sup­port worker in Or­leans, Ont., who died from the virus ear­lier this week.

Ren­nick said the govern­ment needs to re­think its per­sonal pro­tec­tive gear strat­egy in the homes be­cause of the ris­ing rate of in­fec­tion among res­i­dents and staff. It should se­cure more N95 masks and make them widely avail­able to all staff in the fa­cil­i­ties, she said.

“If the sur­gi­cal masks are so great and ev­ery­body’s wearing them, then why do we have this wild­fire spread?” she said.

The union also said the N95 masks are not widely avail­able de­spite the cur­rent rule.

“They’re be­ing told ‘No, no, you don’t re­ally need that,’” said Ren­nick. “Peo­ple say they have masks at their fa­cil­ity, but they’re some­where in the fa­cil­ity un­der lock and key. They are not read­ily avail­able.”

Ford said it’s “un­ac­cept­able” that long-term-care work­ers are not get­ting the pro­tec­tive equip­ment they re­quire.

“We’ve sent out nu­mer­ous let­ters, and it’s so frus­trat­ing hear­ing that the front-line peo­ple are hav­ing prob­lems get­ting the PPE,” Ford said. “What I rec­om­mend — just call. Call my of­fice. Call any­one. We’ll have it over there.”

STEVE RUSSELL TORONTO STAR

Premier Doug Ford at­tends a cer­e­mony to mark the 75th an­niver­sary of Vic­tory in Europe Day at the On­tario Vet­er­ans’ Memo­rial at Queen’s Park on Fri­day. Ford says it’s “un­ac­cept­able” that long-term-care work­ers aren’t get­ting the safety equip­ment they need.

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