An adequate supply of reusable face masks will be available when students return to classes in September to prevent the risk of the coronavirus (COVID-19) as the pandemic continues.
Masks will be mandatory for students from grades 4-12 and all school staff.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange updates the plans in a news release Aug. 8.
“Our primary objective is ensuring the large volume of reusable masks can be obtained and distributed in time for the start of the school year,” LaGrange says.
“Both Alberta Education and the Provincial Operations Centre (POC) are confident that masks, sanitizer, thermometers and face shields will be distributed to school divisions prior to the resumption of class,”
Students, schools and staff will receive their PPE for the beginning of the school year.
“Some have recently questioned the ability of Alberta’s government to purchase the requisite 1.6 million reusable masks in time for the start of K-12 classes this fall,” LaGrange says.
Orders totalling 1.7 million masks have been placed, one to IFR, an Alberta-based company, and the other to Old Navy.
The total value of the mask contracts is $4.2 million.
When the school re-entry plan was announced on June 10 and a decision on how students would return to school was announced on July 21, it was indicated that the decision on masks in schools was still pending, as Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw was still considering emerging scientific evidence from other jurisdictions.
Despite that pending decision, Alberta Education, in conjunction with the POC, began preparing for a plan should Dr. Hinshaw decide to recommend masking in schools.
“Given the expediency required, the POC has directly approached experienced, established vendors to fulfil personal protective equipment (PPE) needs for school reopenings,” Hinshaw says.
Government of Alberta contracting policies allow for a prompt process in urgent situations, as a standard request for proposal tendering process would not allow the government to fulfil schools’ needs in the timely manner required, she says.
“Alberta has excelled at the urgent need to purchase PPE,” LaGrange says.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the POC has successfully acquired more than six million masks, and the Pandemic Response Planning Team has also obtained more than six million masks.
That does not include the 185 million clinical masks purchased directly by Alberta Health Services.
“We understand the eagerness of some local businesses to help with the effort.,” LaGrange says.
“Often, these are businesses that manufactured non-PPE products prior to the pandemic and/or have more limited production capacity.
“We sincerely appreciate the enthusiasm of those wanting to help.”