March 12, 2020
Dear Minister Flemming:
Protecting the safety of our workers is a leading priority of unions. Healthcare providers and other healthcare staff cannot provide competent and quality care if their own safety is not ensured. The worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 brings these concerns to the fore.
Forty-four Canadians died during the SARS epidemic in 2003. Among them were two nurses and one doctor. Many other health providers contracted SARS but were able to recover. The primary lesson we draw from Justice Campbell’s SARS commission report is the need to practice the precautionary principle. This principle holds that in the absence of scientific certainty we must err on the side of caution.
There is a decided lack of certainty around the means of transmission of the COVID-19 virus. While conventional thinking has it that transmission is by means of touch, several studies suggest that these types of viruses can be aerosolized through coughing and sneezing. If this is the case, or if it is unclear whether this is the case, we must protect our health providers who interact with suspected COVID-19 patients with NIOSH-approved, fit-tested N95 respirator masks. The N95 respirator is designed to protect against 95% of airborne particulates free of oil when tested against a 0.3-micron particle.
Organizations, including the Ontario government and the Center for Disease Control in the United States, are recommending the use of N95 respirators to protect health workers from the virus. Other expert organizations, like the Center for Infectious Disease Policy and Research out of the University of Minnesota and the Serious Communicable Disease Unit at Emory University Hospital, claim that we lack the required consensus regarding transmission methods. It is clear to us that we are not at a point of scientific certainty.
We are aware that there are regular discussions among stakeholders in this province regarding our pandemic response plan. We believe that representatives from the major healthcare unions in the province should be involved in these discussions to ensure the voice of frontline workers is not lost. There are important issues to consider, including quarantine plans and locations, the availability of negative pressure rooms within facilities, supply and fit-testing for N95 respirators, and the treatment of residents and clients in long-term care, homecare and elsewhere.
Thank you for listening to our concerns. In summary, we request that health workers have available fit-tested, N95 respirators when in contact with patients who may have COVID-19. Further, we request to be included in the ongoing pandemic-preparedness discussions being undertaken by stakeholders in the province.
Daniel Legere, President New Brunswick Federation of Labour
Paula Doucet, President New Brunswick Nurses Union
Brien Watson, President Canadian Union of Public Employees
Susie Proulx-Daigle, President The New Brunswick Union