Calgary moms hold fundraiser to supply 115,000 Alberta school staff with N95 masks
A lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in schools across Alberta had prompted a group of Calgary mothers to fundraise for supplies themselves.
Krista Li, who sits on a parent council in the Calgary Catholic School District, and Amanda Hu of the Fresh Air Schools advocacy group, have already raised more than $17,300 in two weeks through a GoFundMe initiative called Respirators for Schools.
The mothers are working with the Canadian Association of PPE Manufacturers (CAPPEM) based out of Ontario, which has agreed to match all funds raised. The goal is to distribute up to 200,000 masks by Feb. 15.
Li says CAPPEM offered the group a discounted price on masks so that a $5 donation could provide a single Alberta school teacher with a month’s supply worth of masks, each of which can be used for up to 40 hours.
“I find it odd that two moms can go out and make this kind of partnership, when our education minister couldn’t, it’s a little bit shameful and embarrassing,” Li said.
“I think the most pressing need for us is to help out our teachers and support workers because supply is limited right now, especially in rural schools whose board perhaps may not have the funding or the ability to purchase masks in bulk.”
CAPPEM president Barry Hunt said the provincial government in Alberta is behind in purchasing and providing N95 masks, especially as the Omicron variant created a large spike in cases upon teachers returning to school from the Christmas holiday.
“Right now, N95s are the toilet paper of 2020 and we are essentially sold out of N95s, but we have reserved them through this program
“With a medical grade mask, you reduce your risk of exposure about four-fold, but with a sealed N95 mask it’s about 400 fold, so it’s 100 times more protective than an unsealed mask.”
Hunt notes that his team is also in constant conversation with provinces to see if they are willing to make new purchases, but he also expects fundraising drives like the one organized in Calgary could drive more government support.
“This certainly heightens awareness, we had a similar ‘Better PPE’ day on Oct. 14 here in Ontario for our teachers where we donated 100,000 N95 respirators at a time when they weren’t allowed for teachers,” he said.
“That was a brave move on the teacher’s part, and it opened up schoolboards and the province eventually to accepting N95s and supplying N95s as of January this year.”
The hope now is to submit a first order of masks by Friday Jan. 28, and Li is optimistic that other businesses working in Calgary’s oil and gas sector could step up as well with a big donation.
“I would love to see our oil sands companies swoop in and help us here since they received so many rapid tests that our teachers couldn’t get access too.”
ALBERTA SCHOOLS BEGINNING TO RECEIVE PPE
Alberta’s UCP government promised initial deliveries of 8.6 million rapid test kits and 16.4 million “medical grade” masks (not N95s) by Jan 14.
The province delayed the opening of schools by one week during the Christmas break as Omicron cases surged, but many schools haven't received tests or masks since returning to classrooms almost three weeks ago.
Alberta Education Minister Adriana Lagrange now says the province has begun shipping the 16.4 million masks to Alberta school authorities as of this week.
“We’ll continue this phased approach and, in total, at the end of eight weeks, students and staff will have received about 65.6 million masks,” she tweeted Friday.
“We’ll also begin shipping another 4.1 million rapid tests for our students and staff. In total, we will provide Alberta school authorities with up to 8.6 million rapid tests, as required by school authorities.”
The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) and Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) announced earlier this month that they had each purchased N95 masks for all-school based staff members, but timelines on exact delivery are still uncertain.
In a statement, CBE communications advisor Megan Geyer, says distribution of 11,000 N95 masks purchased by the board are now underway.
“We have purchased enough supply so that every school-based staff member can receive five masks each,” she said.
"The Calgary Board of Education recognizes the importance of preventive measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 and its variants. In addition to the medical-grade masks provided by the Government of Alberta, the Calgary Board of Education has purchased its own supply of N95-equivalent masks for school-based staff, including substitute teachers and casual staff."
Geyer adds that staff may still choose to wear their own mask, the government supplied mask or CBE supplied masks in accordance with CBE’s Mask Guidelines.
The CCSD, meanwhile, said it has received and distributed all of the adult and child-sized masks from the Government of Alberta to all schools.
"The CCSD also ordered additional KN95 masks for staff on January 17, which are expected to arrive in 10-12 business days," a statement read. "Mask wearing is one of the five key health measures that we have implemented at CCSD (health monitoring, handwashing, sanitizing, mandatory wearing of masks K-12 and physical distancing where possible)."
As of Thursday, absentee rates continue to remain high for both the CBE.
The CBE identified 1,087 jobs that required substitute teachers or casual employees. A total of 488 teaching jobs out of 691 were filled and 314 support staff jobs out of 396 were filled.
On Thursday, the CCSD said 135 staff were on health leave and 90 teachers. The number of teachers absent and requiring a substitute was 282 while the fill rate for teacher absence with external guest staff was 77 per cent.
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