UNA urges members to wear N95 masks when caring for patients with COVID-19

In light of the current delta driven fourth wave of COVID-19 and the need to desperately preserve workforce capacity in Alberta, we are urging all of our members to wear fit-tested N95 respirators when caring for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients, to protect themselves, their colleagues, and their patients.

UNA members are permitted to use fit-tested N95 respirators, based on their point of care risk assessment (PCRA), even in situations that do not involve aerosol generating medical procedures, as per the most recent Joint Statement:  COVID-19 and Personal Protective Equipment agreed to between AHS, Covenant Health, UNA, and other health care unions.

It’s important to note that aerosol transmission, which necessitates respiratory protection such as a fit-tested N95 respirator or equivalent, is now recognized as one of the primary modes of transmission of COVID-19 by leading public health and disease control institutions in Canada and across the globe. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the United States Centers for Disease Control (US CDC), and the World Health Organization (WHO), all recognize that COVID-19 spreads through the inhalation of very fine respiratory droplets and aerosol particles that are produced through breathing, coughing, and sneezing. Furthermore, all three organizations now recommend health care workers consider wearing N95 respirators outside of AGMP only situations. For example, the US CDC explicitly states that “[health care providers] who enter the room of a patient with suspected or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection should adhere to Standard Precautions and use a NIOSH-approved N95 or equivalent or higher-level respirator, gown, gloves, and eye protection (i.e. goggles or a face shield that covers the front and sides of the face).”

On Sept.10, 2021, Alberta Health Services (AHS) sent out an all staff COVID-19 email update to their employees incorrectly claiming that the PHAC, the US CDC, and WHO were aligned with AHS in “concluding that aerosols are not considered the predominant mode of transmission of COVID-19”. UNA sent communication to AHS representatives on Sept. 17 asking them to send out a correction to their statement as they were misrepresenting the positions of the PHAC, the US CDC, and the WHO. UNA told AHS that “inaccurate statements like this make it more difficult for health care workers to assess the actual risks in a given situation and make informed decisions on what PPE to wear in order to keep themselves safe.”

AHS responded on Sept. 20, indicating that they reviewed the concern raised by UNA with WHS Leadership and the PPE Taskforce and "are confident that the wording in the CEO all staff message is accurate and will continue to message that staff have the ability to choose the best PPE for their situation as outlined in our joint statement."