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Quebec teachers demand N95 masks, better ventilation as province prepares for return to school

Quebec teachers’ unions are criticizing the government’s decision to reopen primary and secondary schools without providing teachers with N95 masks and equipping all classrooms with mechanical ventilation systems.

The unions’ reaction came after the county announced that in-person classes would resume on Monday, despite acknowledging that reopening could lead to “too many” teacher absenteeisms.

While online learning is “far from ideal” for families and students, the Quebec Teachers’ Association said in a statement it was “surprised” that the government was returning students to the classroom without further safety measures.

CO2 readers will be coming to classrooms in Quebec this coming week, the Quebec government said in a technical briefing on Friday, to better assess the ventilation needs of Quebec schools.

Schools with high levels of carbon dioxide in their classrooms will be able to request an air exchanger from the government. Officials said no application would be denied.

But teachers’ unions said the government was slowing.

the Independent Education Consortium The (FAE), which represents members of nine teachers’ unions, warned in a statement that classrooms were turning into “incubators” for the transmission of COVID-19, and accused Legault’s government of “willful blindness”.

Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said Thursday that the government will distribute about seven million rapid tests to students over the next two months, and will make sure that tests are available in schools if students develop symptoms.

Montreal schools accounted for nearly half of the city’s COVID-19 outbreaks in December, according to Montreal Public Health figures.

But interim Director of Public Health Dr. Luke Poelho told a news conference Thursday that the outbreak in schools simply reflected current community transmission and “may not be a factor” in driving the spread of the virus.

N95 masks are for professional classroom teachers only

Roberge also announced that N95 masks will only be available to teachers who work in spaces designated for students with disabilities, because those students may not be able to wear their own.

Boileau echoed the position of his predecessor, Dr. Horacio Arruda, at a press conference yesterday, saying there was “no reason to believe” that N95 masks provide better protection for teachers in regular classrooms.

In a review of the scientific literature conducted prior to the Omicron wave, the Institute for Public Health Research in Quebec, INSPQ, found that while N95 masks performed better in lab tests, they did not prove to be superior to procedural masks “in real workplace contexts.” (Jay LeBlanc/Radio Canada)

This is in line with a new publication released yesterday by the Institute for Public Health Research in Quebec, INSPQ.

In a review of the scientific literature conducted prior to the Omicron wave, INSPQ found that in lab tests, properly modified N95 masks do a better job of blocking small, volatile particles than procedural masks.

However, INSPQ states that scientific findings “in real workplace contexts” do not show that one type of mask is better than another.

In fact, INSPQ said mask-wearing adherence did better with procedural masks, possibly because people found tight-fitting N95s uncomfortable.

Quebec public health officials cited this as a reason not to recommend their use in schools, adding that without “appropriate testing” they may not be effective.

However, that position appears to run counter to the latest advice from federal public health chief Dr Theresa Tam, who said in December that even three-layer medical masks may not be enough to protect against Omicron and that people should opt for N95-type masks if possible. .

Like Quebec, Alberta has chosen not to recommend N95 use in schools.

Meanwhile, Ontario is sending millions of N95 masks to school staff, while Manitoba is distributing KN95s to the general public.

Some experts believe the Quebec government should err on the side of caution in protecting teachers.

“If I were a teacher, I would have preferred to have an N95 mask, given the transmission of the virus,” Dr. Christopher Labus, an epidemiologist and cardiologist in Montreal, said in an interview with CBC News.

Watch | An epidemiologist in Montreal urges caution, as students return to class:

The worst may be behind us, but Quebec has a long way to go, warns an epidemiologist

Epidemiologist and cardiologist Dr. Christopher Labus warns that even if Quebec reaches the peak of the Omicron wave, hospitals remain fragile. 4:04

Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, said that N95s usually protect the user better than medical masks, “especially when you’re talking about prolonged exposure, which I think is exactly the situation teachers are in.”

In an interview with CBC Montreal DaybreakWithout more real-time data on air quality in schools, and with PCR testing banned for most residents, it is difficult to determine the risks to Quebec by sending children back to school and lifting other measures, Oughton added.

“It’s as if we were in a car on the highway and all of a sudden we hit a really bad patch of fog,” he said.

“To me the sensible thing to do in this place is to slow down rather than hope the way ahead is clear.”

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