Quebec updates N95 mask guidelines, nurses' union says government should go further

·3 min read

MONTREAL — Quebec's national public health institute issued new recommendations Wednesday for the use of N95 masks by health-care professionals.

The new guidelines say the masks can be worn in health-care facilities with "uncontrolled outbreaks" of COVID-19 if workers may be exposed to high concentrations of airborne particles containing the novel coronavirus.

The government-mandated health institute, however, said use of the N95 masks is a "temporary additional measure in exceptional situations." Proper infection control and measures such as social distancing and regular handwashing are more important to protecting health workers from the virus, it added, noting that N95 masks should only be worn after an "exhaustive multidisciplinary evaluation."

For months, health-care unions in Quebec have demanded the government make N95 masks more widely available for workers. N95 masks are made to block 95 per cent of particles larger than 0.3 microns.

In June, Quebec's public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, ordered that N95 masks be worn only by health-care staff during procedures that generate airborne particles or respiratory droplets. That decision drew a court challenge by the province's largest nurses' union, the Federation interprofessionnelle de la sante.

In November, a Quebec Superior Court judge ruled that the union's challenge needed to be heard before Quebec's workplace safety board tribunal prior to the courts. The union has appealed that decision.

Union spokeswoman Denyse Joseph said in an interview Tuesday that N95 masks offer workers better protection than procedural or cloth masks, adding that they reduce the chance workers will spread the virus to others. The union wants health-care workers to be issued N95 masks any time they care for a patient who has tested positive for COVID-19 or is suspected to have caught the virus.

Quebec reported 1,328 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and 53 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including 16 that occurred in the preceding 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by 34, to 1,290, and 221 people were in intensive care, a rise of four.

The province said 4,340 doses of vaccine were administered Tuesday, for a total of 229,219. Officials said Quebec had received a total of 238,100 vaccine doses and that they do not expect to receive more this week.

An outbreak at a jail in Saint-Jerome, north of Montreal, has grown, officials said Wednesday, infecting at least 73 inmates and 18 staff. The regional health authority said it was investigating the source of the outbreak. The jail houses about 300 inmates.

The province said 1,418 more people had recovered from COVID-19, for a total of 232,221. Officials said there were 15,479 active reported infections in the province. Quebec has reported a total of 257,330 COVID-19 infections and 9,630 deaths linked to the virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press