Union pushes province to enact legislation that would see GM’s Oshawa plant produce N95 masks

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WATCH: Many of the province’s health-care workers are battling COVID-19 and one of the largest unions representing those employees say those statistics can be attributed to a lack of N95 masks. As Morganne Campbell reports, there’s a suggestion on the table that could help alleviate those problems – May 10, 2020

Across Ontario, seven health-care workers have died from COVID-19 and more than 3,200 are sick.

Those sobering statistics has pushed the province’s largest union to lobby for one piece of equipment that may help those on the front lines.

“We’ve been calling on the government to use its emergency powers to order industry to produce the N95 mask and it was disappointing to learn General Motors in Oshawa will be making masks but not the N95 masks,” says Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions.

“We know it can be done.”

GM will be making surgical masks, which provide barrier protection but do not provide as much respiratory protection as an N95 mask.

N95 masks are the preferred mask because they are fitted and can prevent most pathogens from entering and leaving the face area.

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“Surgical masks are pretty good at preventing some pathogens from leaving and some from entering the facial area, but they are not of the ideal fibre width to keep out many infectious agents, and importantly they are not fitted, so air gets in from the sides and tops,” explains Dr. Raywat Deonandan, an Ottawa based epidemiologist and researcher.

“N95s protect all parties.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Oshawa GM plant to make face masks

In Warren, Mich., GM is currently producing up to 1.5 million face masks a month, some of which are N95s, but its not clear how many, according to a press release on the company’s website. Global News reached out to the company for comment but our request went unanswered.

“GM’s production plans and their willingness to share design specifications will be extremely appreciated as our members accelerate their own efforts to help during this crisis,” says John Walsh, president and CEO of the Michigan Manufacturers Association.

“GM’s efforts are a strong symbol of how manufacturing is driving solutions to solve this crisis.”

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The partially shuttered General Motors plant in Oshawa is already in the process of reopening an assembly to produce surgical face masks. That process began back in March when about 50 employees were hired to run two separate shifts.

“I know from the commitment that General Motors has made, that they want to be part of the PPE supply chain,” Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter said.

“You’ve seen it in the United States and their partnership with some of the ventilator companies. I know their logistics division has helped move PPE across not only the United States but in Canada. So I truly believe that you’re going to see General Motors play a bigger and bigger role when it comes to providing PPE.”

READ MORE: A look back at General Motors in Oshawa

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said he would like to see medical supplies produced in Ontario so the province doesn’t have to rely on other countries for supplies.

“As these small companies ramp up and the large companies and we slowly start getting through this, we can’t jump ship on these companies if it costs us a couple extra pennies to have security and good security for our people, pay the extra couple of cents,” Ford said during his Saturday briefing at Queen’s Park.

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Canada recently turned away 8 million masks sent by China because they didn’t meet Health Canada standards, which unions point to as a clear indication these supplies should be produced domestically.

“What we really need at the moment to sustain the health-care system is to make the N95 masks,” added Hurley.