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Letter to Premier re. protecting front line workers by addressing aerosol transmission of COVID-19

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OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas sent the following letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford today regarding the aerosol transmission of COVID-19 and the need to protect front line workers.

January 14, 2021

Hon. Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario
Room 281
Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, ON M7A 1A1

Re: Protecting front line workers by addressing aerosol transmission of COVID-19

Dear Premier Ford,

As the union representing more than 170,000 workers, including those on the front lines of the current health care crisis, I want to express my deep concern regarding the aerosol transmission of COVID-19, and the need to give the best possible protection to Ontario’s workers.

The evidence is clear – COVID-19 can spread through fine aerosols. Despite the rising tide of scientists, experts and leading agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) who have warned of this risk, Ontario’s government and health authorities continue to operate on outdated public health guidelines and directives.

Employees in high-risk work environments need better protection.

We are now seeing record-breaking numbers as you publicly pointed out this week. We know that workplace outbreaks are a major contributing factor, especially work done in crowded places, close contact settings and confined spaces – the so-called “3Cs.” That is why access to appropriate PPE remains a concern.

OPSEU/SEFPO is asking that you recognize the serious nature of aerosol transmission in the spread of COVID-19 and immediately upgrade PPE requirements in all 3C work settings, including, but not limited to long-term care homes and schools. At a minimum, N95 respirators are necessary in protecting against aerosol transmission.

As you know, Ontario initially did mandate airborne precautions. Last March, amidst a national shortage of PPE supplies, these precautions were withdrawn. Although the science was less clear then, OPSEU/SEFPO urged the provincial government to err on the side of caution, despite scientific uncertainty. After all, this was the primary lesson from SARS. Our members’ lives are on the line and that is why we developed our own position on PPE.

We are now a year into the pandemic, and we have more information and stronger scientific evidence. There are no more reasons for inaction. It’s time to heed the call of the experts (i.e., the January 4 letter appealing to Canada’s public health authorities) and update Ontario’s public health guidelines and directives immediately.

The WHO, CDC and PHAC have all acknowledged airborne transmission of COVID-19. Yet to-date, the province has still not implemented airborne precautions for health care and essential workers in 3C workplaces.

At the outset of the pandemic, China reduced health care workers’ exposure to the virus by adopting higher levels of PPE, including the use of N95 masks. There is no reason Ontario should not do the same. With a new COVID variant that is quite possibly more contagious, airborne precautions are even more important.

Premier, I know you care about front-line workers and agree that they deserve the best protection we can give them. Ontario must recognize the 3Cs as significant factors in the airborne spread of COVID-19. We must take all reasonable precautions to protect our front-line heroes.

Sincerely,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, OPSEU/SEFPO

c.
Hon. Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health
Hon. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Long-Term Care
Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health