2 years into the pandemic, why aren’t all retail workers getting N-95 masks?

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As Omicron changed the nature of the pandemic, so have the rules to protect some workers. for example, most frontline health care workers Ontario now has to wear N-95-style masks, which filter out the vast majority of dangerous coronavirus particles.

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However, many other industries that deal with the general public on a regular basis have been slow to adapt quickly to the virus’s form, leaving the people working in them with less protection than they were.

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For the most part, the widespread use of N-95 or equivalent masks in grocery stores has not been mandated, despite growing evidence that cloth masks and other substandard alternatives are used to slow the spread of wildfires. Very few do that which is omicron.

“I believe that everyone who is interacting in an indoor space should wear an N-95 mask or equivalent,” said Dr Anna Volk, a family physician and member of a group called Masks for Canada , which is pushing for more widespread availability and use of things like rapid tests and better masks for all.

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In an interview, Volk says Canada’s impressive vaccination campaign is a valuable tool in management and will hopefully one day beat the pandemic, but Omicron is showing that we can’t depend entirely on it. “We need to make sure we use layer by layer security,” she said.

“It definitely needs to happen before the next edition comes out so that we can be better prepared and not get caught like we were back in March 2020, which it seems.”

While Omicron has caused another surge in demand, which has made it a little harder to find N-95 and equivalent masks again, they were readily available before the current wave. “The government needs to ensure that every Canadian has access to this and equitable distribution of masks will go a long way towards achieving this,” she said.

different policies

London Drugs is a major retail chain that sees value in them. Like many other retailers, the Vancouver-based chain of about 80 pharmacies across Canada has implemented a mandatory masking policy in stores since the start of the pandemic, but over time the chain has changed its requirements for that type of mask. advanced that it will use “as the science continues to evolve,” company president Clint Mahleman told businesshala News in an interview.

Since last summer, the chain has introduced N-95s and similar masks known as KN-95s, available with similar materials and mandatory for all of its employees, whether in stores or at the head office. . “It is very clear that this is a prudent and precautionary approach that we are taking,” Mahleman said, adding that they also sell them to customers in the store.

Under ideal conditions, both the N-95 and KN-95 masks filter more than 95 percent of fine particles from the air. KF-94, a Korean mask standard, is is also seen as equivalent and filters out over 94 percent. Known in the medical community as respirators, they are made from similar materials, and experts agree that when used properly they provide comparable levels of protection.

In the early days of the pandemic, demand for N95-style masks in Canada far exceeded supply, which prompted health officials to ask Canadians not to use them so they could be available to health care workers. But that’s no longer the case, so there’s no reason not to use them more widely, Mahleman said.

“Things are very different today there are so many local Canadian manufacturers that we can get masks quite easily,” he said. “Availability is a game changer at this point in the pandemic.”

look | Why London Drugs gives medical-grade masks to staff:

However, not everyone’s policy is the same.

businesshala News contacted some of Canada’s largest retail chains, including grocers Loblaws, Metro and Sobey’s, as well as home improvement retailers Rona, Lowe’s and Home Depot. All companies gave the same explanation about the same sentiment: their mask policies for employees comply with all local health regulations, and while N-95s are available upon request from some of their employees, they are not mandatory for any.

many provinces including Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta And Quebec Masks are required to be worn in all indoor public places, including retailers, but none of those provinces specify the type or quality of face coverings. In fact some provincial regulations still allow cloth masks, which Dr. “Basically now only facing decorations,” says Volk.

Some provinces stipulate that medical grade N-95 masks must be provided for certain workers in health care facilities and long-term care homes, but grocery stores and other retailers are exempt from such requirements.

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

The company recently implemented a mandatory masking policy, under which around 400 employees of the company get 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 are taking this seriously and using the highest grade masks available to us,” Robev said.

To make sure they have enough, the chain recently purchased about 10,000 KN-95 masks, which cost about 31 cents per mask. The supplier has advised the company that they are currently sold out and that whenever they have stock again the price will be closer to $1, but either way Robev says it is money well spent. .

He added, “I also hear it from customers, when they see us wearing these masks, they are excited that we are taking it as seriously as we are and that they feel safe coming to our store. are,” he said. He said that masks have helped stores better address the staff shortage by keeping employees safe and able to work.

decent creep

Retail employees who receive them certainly appreciate them. Rechev Brown encounters more than his fair share of members of the public on the 45-minute bus journey from his home north of Toronto to his job at a grocery store west of downtown.

As Canada’s vaccination campaign ramps up, he says he has seen some complacency creep in when it comes to other COVID preventive measures. “The customers have completely forgotten about social distancing,” he said in an interview. “Getting into work can be scary — I’m not my normal self.”

He works in a store owned by Lobla, so he was being given two surgical-style masks at the beginning of every shift. But last week his manager handed each employee a box of N-95s.

Brown and other retail workers most likely to bear the brunt of COVID risk, And while he says he’s grateful for the high quality masks he has now, the thing that’s really helping him overcome the current wave is positive thinking.

“I’m constantly reminding myself that nothing lasts forever,” he said. “This too shall pass, no matter how hopeless it may seem.”

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