OHS Canada Magazine

Quebec health workers to wear N95 masks more often, but studies unclear on benefits


MONTREAL — Quebec’s workplace safety board is requiring health-care workers wear N95 masks in areas where there are patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Linda Lapointe, vice-president at Quebec’s largest nurses’ union, says she’s pleased with the decision announced today but wants the government to require those masks also be worn in areas where patients are waiting for COVID-19 test results.

Her union, the Federation interprofessionnelle de la sante, is suing the government to have N95 masks — designed to have a close fit and to filter 95 per cent of very small particles — issued more widely among health-care workers.

But McMaster University professor of pathology and molecular medicine Dr. Mark Loeb says it’s unclear whether N95 masks offer more protection against COVID-19 than surgical masks.

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Loeb said previous studies, which analyzed transmission of other respiratory illnesses, showed no difference in infection rates between nurses who wore surgical masks and those who wore N95s.

Montreal Jewish General Hospital infectious disease specialist Dr. Leighanne Parkes says she worries the focus on mask distracts from bigger issues such as health-care facilities that don’t allow for proper distancing or with poor ventilation.

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