As officials encourage better masks to ward off Omicron, stores in Sask. sell out of them

·3 min read
Both Canada's chief public health officer and Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer say masks like this N95 respirator offer better protection than surgical or cloth masks. (Justin Fraser/CBC - image credit)
Both Canada's chief public health officer and Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer say masks like this N95 respirator offer better protection than surgical or cloth masks. (Justin Fraser/CBC - image credit)

As cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 continue to jump in Saskatchewan, some stores are struggling to keep up with demand for N95 and KN95 masks.

Earlier this week, the province's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab and Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said cloth or surgical masks — especially with just one layer — are likely ineffective against the Omicron variant.

That's leading to a spike in sales at some stores.

"We don't have any (N95 masks) left now," said Mai Huynh, a manager at Canadian Tire's Southland Mall location in Regina. "We were not selling good for a while. Suddenly (it) just picked up this week."

Several other stores CBC News contacted Thursday were facing the same situation, with some unsure of when the next shipment of masks would arrive.

Radio-Canada
Radio-Canada

Some people have been lucky to get them.

Mitch Lysak, a resident of Saskatoon, said he's been wearing them for some time and agrees that people should be upgrading their mask choice.

"As somebody who's already doing that as an educator in the high school setting, no problem whatsoever," he said.

Masks only effective if they fit: expert

Dr. Joseph Blondeau, the head of clinical microbiology at the University of Saskatchewan, agrees N95 and KN95 masks are a good choice. If none are available, he recommends double masking with surgical masks as an alternative.

The most important thing, he says, is that the mask must fit properly, no matter what kind is used.

Zoom/Radio-Canada
Zoom/Radio-Canada

"If the mask is not worn properly or if it doesn't fit properly, then the effectiveness is substantially reduced," he said.

"If it has big gaping holes on the side of it, with a highly transmissible virus, that may be just be enough room for the virus to get in and cause infection."

Company aims for better fit, environmental benefits with its mask

Jason Tratch is hopeful his company's mask — called the CA-Gill Mask — will be the most effective product against the Omicron variant.

Tratch, who is based in Saskatoon, says the mask has a silicone shell and adjustable strap. He believes it will halt air leakage, thereby preventing airborne transmission of the virus better than N95 respirators.

Submitted by Jason Tratch
Submitted by Jason Tratch

The mask and its filters are reusable, which he says will help cut down on the excess waste created by other masks.

"We need to be responsible as humans in the circular economy," said Tratch. "How many surgical masks are being thrown away and how many plastic wrappers everyday? It's insane."

Alexa Mofazzali with Loraas Disposal North in Saskatoon said the company has seen a big increase in mask and other PPE waste since the start of the pandemic.

"We're seeing close to 10,000 masks and single-use gloves everyday," she told CBC Radio's Blue Sky on Wednesday.

"People say, 'Oh, it's a paper mask. Paper is recyclable, let's put it in the bin.' But it's not that easy, especially when it comes to something that's basically a biohazard like that."

She recommends people throw used PPE in the garbage instead.

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