Can N95 Masks Make Schools Safe and Reopen the Economy

Schools must reopen ASAP but can they be made safe enough? With new variants from the UK, and South Africa, the safety issue still looms. Authorities declare the schools are safe with serious mitigation like smaller classes, distancing, ventilation, PPE, hand washing, and so on, but conservative governments meet the absolute minimums, if that, and declare the schools are safe. 


Everybody wants schools open but how can we maximize safety before and even after the vaccines for teachers, support staff and the general public are widely available. There may be a way - the N95 mask. 


The expert take on masks has been sadly mishandled from the start in January. First we had the January-February expert opinion, that masks were not necessary, save them for hospital workers, notwithstanding the fact that the more experienced Asian nations were all masked up. Then we were told to stay away from N95s, save them again for hospital workers. Now, many experts are saying N95s for all is the most appropriate course. 


Much has changed. N95s are in short supply. A quick check with Home Depot indicates, “we can’t keep them in stock, they go out as fast as they come in.” Your scribe just ordered 100 masks for $52 tax included or 50 cents a piece. Only N95 or equivalent can hold off the new variants. 


Bernie Sanders is pushing the Biden administration to use the Defence Appropriations Act to order the  mass production of N95s for all Americans. Sanjay Guptan of CNN has reported on CNN that “many experts now believe that N95s for all are more important than vaccines in ending COVID19 and , in fact mass wearing of N95s could end the pandemic in six weeks.” 


Asians are mass producing N95s. Europe is mandating N95, KN95, the European version, FFP2 and FFP3 masks (FFP means fitting facepiece).


Ontario has ordered masking in schools from grade 1 up, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, grade 4 and up. BC elementary remains optional. 


A few years ago Ontarians may remember, teams of young people going street by street handing out boxes of compact fluorescent (pigtail) lightbulbs. It was thought that the use of CFLs, in fact, saved so much energy, that Ontario was actually ahead giving them out free. This is what all of Canada should be doing with N95 masks. The unemployed restaurant, bar and gym workers could be employed handing them out.  


Between Ministries, school boards and perhaps teacher and support staff unions, N95 masks could be supplied to every single staff member, even better, every single student as well. Dr Paul Offit told Jake Tapper on CNN, February 4/21 that if a teacher wanted to be really safe after school reopening, they should purchase a supply of N95 masks. Surely with ministry bulk purchasing power, we can do far better than 50 cents each. 


This is the greatest single measure we can take to make schools safe.


Some important links below.

A debate is raging across North America and the wider world regarding school reopening. The reasons are obvious. Progressives are apocalyptic about learning loss, particularly the poor kids, children of colour, and special ed kids. Conservatives realize that the economy cannot fully reopen with many parents, usually the moms, staying home with elementary school age students. Working at home parents are driven around the bend, balancing three kids at home, remote work themselves and monitoring their own kids learning.