May 12th, 2020

Government memo asks care workers to downgrade to non-medical cloth masks

QUEEN’S PARK — The Ford government is now encouraging staff in residential facilities, like care homes for people with disabilities, to downgrade to non-medical cloth masks, even where there’s an active COVID-19 outbreak.

“For basic prevention, staff should wear cloth (non-medical) masks at all congregate care sites regardless of infection status. All suspect (symptomatic) and confirmed cases should be isolated in a single room and enhanced precautions must be deployed. All staff should use Droplet and Contact Precautions if they come within 2 metres of a suspected or confirmed case, this means enhanced PPE must be worn (surgical mask, eye protection, gown, gloves).”

May 8 Memo from the Ministry of Children Community
and Social Services obtained by the NDP

“The government’s job is to do everything in its power to get our workers the PPE they need, not to water down the safety recommendations so they don’t have to,” said Andrea Horwath, Leader of the Official Opposition New Democrats. “We continue to hear heartbreaking and scary stories about workers having their access to masks restricted, and this memo is only going to make that worse.”

The memo, issued May 8, alters a previous version of the same memo, dated April 27. The original says: “Additionally, please begin requiring staff to wear masks at all congregate care sites regardless of infection status. Limit this preventative masking to 1 mask per person, per shift to ensure conservation.” It didn’t mention non-medical cloth masks.

The NDP says workers in congregate care should have the right, based on the precautionary principle, to access personal protective equipment including N95 masks, and to swap for a fresh mask if it gets soiled. A court decision following a challenge by the Ontario Nurses Association confirms that right.

“Health care workers, including personal support workers, are putting their lives on the line. They know the risks, and deserve every protection we can afford them,” said Horwath. “It was wrong to restrict them to one mask per shift, and it’s even worse to tell them to stop wearing medical-grade protective equipment.”