Staff members within the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board are now allowed to wear N95 masks or any other mask approved by Health Canada, its board of trustees voted Tuesday.
At its meeting Tuesday evening, trustees voted to change a rule that previously forced staff to wear only masks supplied by the Ontario government. Teachers had been required to wear level two medical face masks even if they wanted to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) that would provide a higher level of protection.
Justine Bell, the trustee for Somerset/Kitchissippi, introduced the motion because she said education staff should have the right to use a mask if it's equal or better than the ones provided.
"I want to keep students and staff safe, and I also want teachers to have a sense of security," Bell told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Wednesday.
"We're talking about comparatively one of the highest risk environments at the moment."
N95 masks stop aerosol spread
Some teachers have chosen to wear N95 masks, or respirators, and those must still be approved by Health Canada. Staff will be required to attest they have been trained and fit-tested to ensure proper use, and they must follow all Ministry of Labour rules for handling and disposal.
Bell said she hopes this will pressure school boards across Ontario to provide higher-grade masks for education workers.
"COVID is airborne, and the thing is, surgical masks are made to stop the spread of droplets, not of aerosols," Bell said.
"It's the N95s, the higher grade masks, that stop the spread of aerosols."
The motion passed with a 12-1 vote with only trustee Donna Blackburn voting against.