WCDSB to allow teachers to upgrade protective masks
Waterloo Catholic District School Board (WCDSB) trustees have voted to allow teachers to upgrade the protective masks they wear, even though some administrators say the move wasn't necessary.
The move allows teachers to wear N-95 respirator masks if there's concern about the risk of COVID-19 in the classroom.
"We were really grateful when the trustee brought it forward last night," said Patrick Etmanski, Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association president. "There really isn’t a good answer on why you can’t do better."
Trustee Shannon Nash introduced the motion that was passed by the board of trustees in a majority vote.
"This could have happened in September, it was happening last year," said Etmanski. "We took a few steps backward and a few steps forward last night, but we're happy with those few steps forward."
However, the director of education for the board says there wasn't need for this, and calls the existing medical grade masks, "highly effective protection" with little evidence of transmission to staff.
"There is a need to assess the mask that a staff person is proposing to wear, ensuring its quality at the school level, ensuring it is consistently the approved mask that is worn," said director Loretta Notten in a statement.
Zahid Butt, a public health assistant professor at the University of Waterloo, says that respirator masks offer more protection, but come with added requirements.
"For maximum protection you would like to wear those N95 respirators," he said. "If you are using the N95 respirator mask though, it has to really fit snugly around your nose and chin. There shouldn’t be any gaps."
The motion says that anyone who wants to change their PPE would need to get it on their own from a pre-approved list by Health Canada. If a respirator requires fitting, they must follow the guidelines.
The director of education maintains that the current approach came from guidance from the chief medical officers of health for the province and the region. They add that if the guidance changes, they will always lean into the science and guidance they receive.
"Don’t just settle for the minimum," said Etmanski. "Don’t just settle for what public health says is okay.”
Board staff are now working on turning that motion into a new operational guideline.
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