Quebec healthcare workers required to wear N95 masks starting this week

Feb 9 2021, 12:48 pm

Healthcare workers in COVID-19 hot zones throughout Quebec will be required to wear N95 masks starting Thursday, February 11.

According to the Committee on Standards, Equity, Health and Safety at Work (CNESST), the announcement comes in light of a notice that highlighted the high airborne transmissibility of COVID-19 variants.

The document was issued by the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec (INSPQ) and the Committee on Nosocomial Infections of Quebec (CINQ) and included recommendations about the use of respiratory protection equipment.

Designed to filter out at least 95% of particles in the air, N95 respirators are considered more effective at preventing the spread of the virus because of their tight fit, which creates a seal around the wearer’s face. Surgical masks, while effective, don’t offer the same protection because they don’t provide an airtight fit.

The INSPQ specified that the updated recommendations applied to “all patient care settings and living environments,” such as long-term care homes, acute care facilities, and care units in seniors’ residences.

Also, the CNESST defined a “hot zone” as a space where two or more workers have tested positive for COVID-19 within the same care unit or facility.

Along with proper respiratory protection equipment, it will be mandatory for healthcare workers in hot zones to wear eye protection, non-sterile long-sleeved shirts, and non-sterile single-use gloves that cover the wearer’s wrists.

“The CNESST remains alert and is putting everything into place in order to ensure the protection of healthcare personnel,” says Manuelle Oudar, the Chair of the Board of Directors and CEO of the CNESST. “We want what is best for the people who work in this field, and we make decisions on this basis.”

Prior to this announcement, the use of N95 masks was “reserved for situations where a medical intervention which generates aerosols is performed,” as per an INSPQ recommendation from June 2020. This recommendation was highly contested by healthcare workers, notably the Quebec Interprofessional Health Federation (FIQ), who felt this “[reduced] protective respiratory measures for care staff instead of increasing it.”