The Manitoba government is asking school divisions to stop using certain face masks after some staff members said they developed rashes from wearing them.
The province said it received a few reports of a strong chemical odour, as well as rashes, from individuals who wore Technologist Choice ear-loop masks, without a lot number on the box.
As a result, the government told school divisions this weekend they should immediately pull those masks from circulation.
“We recognize that some of you have a significant number of these masks in stock,” said an email Sunday from the province’s innovative technology services director.
“Public Health has advised that until our investigation is complete, and we have determined how much stock may need to be replaced, staff can wear a non-medical cloth mask as an alternative.”
‘My name is being tarnished for no reason’
The government said the masks were purchased a decade ago for a different pandemic: H1N1 in 2009.
However, BND Inc., the Toronto-based company which developed the masks, said the face-coverings have a lifespan of a few years.
“This is causing me a headache because my name is being trashed for no reason,” said BND president Surender Choudhry said.
“The province should have made a wise decision. They should know the normal shelf life on these things is 3-5 years.”
The government said the masks were stored in a temperature-controlled facility. They were recently inspected and deemed safe for use by Infection Prevention and Control and Occupational and Environmental Safety and Health, the province said.
Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said Monday the province’s Central Services department, which procures and distributes personal protective equipment, will conduct an investigation as to what went wrong.
The Manitoba Teachers Society said the masks were used as teachers moved from one classroom to the next, interacting with different cohorts.
“Our members clearly got the message from public health that a medical-grade mask was necessary. We obviously look to the employer to provide those masks, and I think it’s disappointing when issues like expiry date or a reaction to these masks come up.”
The Winnipeg School Division discontinued use of these masks on the weekend.
“We’ve been hearing from people experiencing extraordinarily unusual and powerful odours, as well as experiencing headaches and things like that,” WSD trustee Chris Broughton said.
“I’ve heard from teachers personally directly, and we’ve been working with the province to try and rectify the situation as quickly as possible.”
The Winnipeg School Division said it received three complaints each about rashes and the smell.
Spokesperson Radean Carter said the masks were used by staff who have contact with multiple cohorts, as well as any students who become ill and must be quarantined before they’re picked up by a parent or guardian.
Louis Riel School Division in Winnipeg said it received 26,000 of these expired masks.
The Manitoba Child Care Association said some child-care centres received the same expired masks from the province.