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Experts question usefulness of masks purchased by province for Alberta students


Experts are questioning the Alberta government’s decision to purchase medical-grade masks for students in school, saying better masks should be used instead.

Students would have been back in class this week, but the province extended the winter break as Omicron cases rise.

In an effort to protect students and staff when they do return to school, the province plans to deliver 8.6 million rapid tests and 16.5 million adult and pediatric medical-grade masks to schools.

“What we need to worry about are fit, filter and function… so called “medical-grade masks” are designed for adults, not kids,” said Dorothy Wigmore, an occupational health specialist.

“For a medical mask, the actual design of them is intended to stop someone like a surgeon spitting into a patient that they’re working on, it’s to stop material coming out of the wearer, rather than to protect the wearer,” added Dr. Simon Smith, a retired respiratory filter specialist.

“Without a good fit, you’re going to be breathing air in when you inhale that’s going to take the path of least resistance and bypass the filter entirely.”

Respirator-style masks are being recommended as alternatives which would be better suited to what students will be doing in schools, breathing, talking and learning.

“All of the medical-grade masks have been tested to meet international standards for particle and bacterial filtration, breathability, fluid resistance, and flammability of materials,” said a statement from the premier’s office.

“Medical-grade masks provide an additional layer of protection to lower the risk of in-school transmission, and when properly fitted are 98% as effective as N95 masks.”

One ER doctor in the province argues that “there is no such thing as a well-fitting medical mask.”

“They’re not designed to fit well… they’re basically a barrier,” said Dr. Joe Vipond, the co-founder of Masks4Canada and Protect Our Province Alberta.

“I’m worried the Alberta public will feel reassured that they’re getting these higher quality masks, when they’re completely inadequate for the job… it’s not useless, it’s just not nearly enough for the job.”

He recommends parents get better masks for their children to go to school with, if they can find them. Respirator-style masks are a little more expensive, but Vipond believes they’re worth the investment.

“You can wear (respirator masks) multiple days… up to five eight hour days in a row as long as it’s not smelling bad or obviously soiled… they don’t expire, they don’t get less safe after a day’s use,” added Vipond.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Joe Scarpelli Top Stories

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