Masks Quebec issued to 15,000 daycares fail safety check, staff ordered to toss them

Between May and November, the Quebec government distributed tens of millions of MC9501 masks to the province's daycares. It turns out, they're not as safe as they should be, and daycares have been ordered to throw them away as soon as possible.

Unions furious as daycares scramble to replace 31 million masks

The Quebec government has ordered daycares across the province to stop using the blue, disposable MC9051 mask. About 28 million of them have been shipped since May. (Mélissa Savoie-Soulières/Radio-Canada)

The disposable masks the Quebec government has been distributing for months to more than 15,000 daycares across the province do not meet safety standards, and daycare staff have been ordered to stop using them. 

Quebec's Family Ministry issued the order in an email sent Tuesday evening, according to Radio-Canada. Between May and November, the ministry distributed 31.1 million MC9501 masks throughout the network to protect staff from COVID-19.

But the blue disposable mask failed a safety check performed by a private, non-profit research institute for worker health and safety, the Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRRST). 

The institute is funded by Quebec's workplace health and safety board, the CNESST. 

"According to the information transmitted by the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST), one of the three criteria analyzed does not completely meet the requirements," the ministry's email states.

Family Minister Mathieu Lacombe said the problem is with the mask's ability to filter bacteria. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

On Wednesday, Family Minister Mathieu Lacombe said the problem is with the mask's ability to filter bacteria.

"Sometimes it works, sometimes it may not work" Lacombe said during an interview with Radio-Canada.

"As soon as we found out, we acted [upon the information] because, obviously, the health and safety of our personnel in our CPEs (childcare centres), our daycares and our home childcare centres is not negotiable."

The other two safety criteria for the masks are its resistance to fluids and how easy it is to breathe while wearing it. 

A spokesperson for Health Minister Christian Dubé said the MC9501 mask was not distributed in the province's schools or health-care facilities.

Unions want more transparency

Unions representing daycare workers were upset by the news and met with Lacombe on Wednesday morning. They said they wanted to know why it took so long for the problem to be detected.

"We still don't know the root of the problem," Sona Ethier, president of the Centrale des syndicats du Québec trade union, said in a statement.

"After having risked the health and safety of workers for several months, the least the Health Ministry and the government can do is to be transparent."

The unions are also worried the order to dump the masks will leave their members without enough protective equipment.

"We have to rectify seven months of supply in just a few days," Valérie Grenon, the president of the Fédération des intervenantes en petite enfance du Québec (FIPEQ), said in a written statement. 

The government began distributing a different type of mask last week. The next batch set to arrive in mid-January. 

Lacbombe said daycares dealing with shortages will have to purchase enough masks to get by before the next delivery.

Masks never felt right, daycare operator says

Claudia Beaudin, who runs the daycare L'attrait mignon in Longueuil, says she always had doubts about the masks the government provided.

"Since the beginning, the masks provided by the ministry didn't make us confident because they appeared to be of lesser quality," Beaudin said.

"For months, I asked my employees to wear masks that didn't conform by telling them that it was for their safety."

Between May and November, the ministry distributed 31.1 million MC9501 masks throughout the network to protect staff from COVID-19. (Marc-André Landry/Radio-Canada )

Lucie Longchamps, the vice-president of the Federation of Health and Social Services, a union, said she had similar concerns about the mask and shared them with the ministry.

"The masks didn't have all of the Canadian certifications that we expected," she said. "I am not saying that they couldn't protect, but we weren't certain that they were working the way we should've expected."

According to a spokesperson for the family minister, the province has recorded fewer than 1,000 COVID-19 cases in daycares since the start of the pandemic.

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Thomas Gerbet

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