Health-care workers to get N95 masks when dealing with COVID-19

Nurses and other Alberta health-care workers coming within two metres of a suspected, presumed or confirmed COVID-19 patient will now have access to N95 respirators, according to an agreement between Alberta Health Services and unions for frontline workers.

Health-care workers will also be able to conduct their own clinical risk assessments to determine what personal protection equipment is needed during patient interactions.

AHS issued a joint statement Friday with Covenant Health, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, Health Sciences Association of Alberta and United Nurses of Alberta.

“As partners in the response to COVID-19, we trust our front-line health care teams to make appropriate and clinically sound decisions,” the statement said.

The agreement comes after CBC News revealed some Edmonton nurses had been refusing to swab for COVID-19 without the tighter-fitting N95 masks.

“All health-care workers who are within two metres of suspected, presumed or confirmed COVID-19 patients shall have access to appropriate PPE [personal protection equipment],” the statement said.

“We agree that a risk assessment must be conducted for every patient interaction to ensure front-line health-care workers have the specific PPE they need,” the agreement said.

The statement also said appropriate personal protective equipment “will not be unreasonably denied by their employer, or they shall be deployed to another area.”

Until Thursday, the United Nurses of Alberta and AHS disagreed on the protective requirements for nurses testing for the novel coronavirus.

AHS said looser-fitting surgical masks provided adequate protection but the union said science on aerosol transmission is inconclusive. The UNA said nurses who requested an N95 mask, based on a clinical assessment, should be given one without question.

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