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 santé.
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.