COVID-19: Calls on the rise for people to switch to N95 masks in British Columbia

Advocacy group says provincial health worker relies on outdated knowledge to dismiss need for premium masks

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VICTORIA – A growing number of healthcare experts are demanding that the province switch to the use of N95 masks in all healthcare settings and are encouraging members of the public to do the same.

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Last week, provincial health worker Dr Bonnie Henry said “it’s inevitable” that everyone in British Columbia will be exposed to the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Now, an independent group of doctors, health scientists, politicians and community advocates have said Henry should do more to prevent this by ordering the wearing of premium respirators.

“I don’t think anyone should say it’s inevitable that everyone gets Omicron. If we don’t respond by following science, we will. We should react to the science and ask everyone to wear a premium mask like an N95 respirator or equivalent, ”said Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, retired emergency physician and member of Save Our Province BC

It is the latest group to demand that the province change its policy and require all healthcare workers and visitors to healthcare facilities to wear N95 masks. Currently, they are forced to remove N95s and use medical masks instead.

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Medical masks, also called surgical masks, are multi-layered paper or fabric masks that protect against large droplets of sputum or blood. N95 respirators, while generally less comfortable to wear, offer much higher levels of filtration blocking most tiny aerosol particles.

The BC Nurses’ Union, the BC Teachers Federation, and the BC COVID-19 Modeling Group have also advocated for the use of the N95 respirator.

Henry rejected their requests, saying current policy allows N95s in settings where they are needed, such as in COVID-19 wards and intensive care units.

Filiatrault said Henry’s belief is based on outdated knowledge.

“They don’t recognize that 60% of transmission occurs before symptoms and that some people never have symptoms. So checking for symptoms at the door won’t work, and wearing an unnecessary surgical mask won’t be either, ”she said. “There have been at least a dozen studies showing that transmission is through aerosols, not droplets. Dr Henry is stuck in dogma and the sad part is that it costs lives.

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British Columbia said Monday there have been 9,332 new COVID-19 infections in the three days since New Years Eve. It did not say whether there had been any new deaths or put up-to-date hospitalization rates. Henry will give an update on Tuesday afternoon.

As the province ramps up its booster vaccination campaign, some health professionals are also concerned about the use of surgical masks in vaccination clinics.

Health Minister Adrian Dix on Friday urged retired nurses, retired doctors and first responders to register to work in vaccination clinics.

But Filiatrault’s group said their recruitment could become more difficult as those on the front lines demand the right to wear N95 respirators before working in vaccination clinics.

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“We have emails from nurses, doctors and others who do other work in immunization clinics who say they are now starting to feel uncomfortable working now that we know the viruses are transmitted by aerosols and not given N95, ”said Filiatrault.

Dr Victor Leung, for example, decided not to offer his services at vaccination clinics after being told he would not be allowed to wear his N95 mask.

“It seems very strange that I’m not allowed to wear a higher level of protection that as a BC healthcare worker has been tested for me,” he told CTV News. “It is very clear now that the predominant mode of transmission is inhalation of particles or aerosols carrying the virus.”

Last week, Henry insisted that N95 respirators are not needed in vaccination clinics.

“Vaccination clinics are not clinics at high risk for COVID infection,” she said. “So a respirator – this is probably one of the places where you would need it the least. “

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