Where can you get an N95 mask in Ottawa?

With the appearance of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19, public health officials in Ontario have updated their guidance on masking, recommending medical masks and better-fitting respirators over one- or two-layer non-medical masks to help prevent the spread of the virus.

This guidance, and the precipitous rise in COVID-19 cases, has prompted high demand for respirator-type masks like N95s and KN95s.

In Ottawa, many pharmacies that formerly stocked the masks have run out. This newspaper reached out to a dozen pharmacies across the city and none had any stock of N95 masks.

“There is a full shortage of masks in almost every pharmacy right now and we’ve had like 10 people come in today asking,” a pharmacy worker at Shoppers Drug Mart on Bank Street and Gladstone Avenue said Tuesday.

N95 masks were still available in Ottawa on Wednesday, but, for those who want to buy them, it may be best to call ahead to confirm that the shop actually has them.

A few of the locations that still had respirator-type masks this week included Canadian Tire, whose website showed dozens of the masks still available at its Merivale location and hundreds at 3910 Innes Rd. in Orléans. Costco Wholesale at 1849 Merivale Rd. also had the masks, according to a worker there on Tuesday, and Dymon storage locations had stock of KN95 masks.

Masks are also still available online, either from mega-retailer Amazon or from some Canadian manufacturers and suppliers like Viral Clean , a PPE manufacturer based in Ottawa, who sells N95-rated masks online or offer curbside pickup from their factory. Buying Direct Corp , another Ottawa-based supplier, also had a variety of N95 and KN95 masks in stock.

But are respirator-type masks really the best thing to wear?

A Public Health Ontario evidence brief from Dec. 15 noted respirators did a better job of filtering particles than other types of masks, but the brief also included numerous caveats.

“Medical masks and respirators that fit well can provide better filtration than non-medical masks if they are worn consistently and correctly,” the brief read. “A well-fitting 3-layer cloth mask of effective materials is a reasonable alternative in populations where its use will lead to increased mask adherence. One- or two-layer non-medical masks are not recommended to protect others or the wearer.”

An Ottawa Public Health spokesperson wrote in an email that respirator-type masks like N95s and KN95s were not necessarily superior to some other types of masks if they were not fitted well. “The additional personal protection benefits of KN95 and N95 respirators will be dependent on the degree of fit and inward leakage and may not be achieved in the absence of fit-testing and seal-checking procedures,” the agency wrote.

“A well-fitted medical mask OR a well-fitting, well-constructed three-layer cloth mask (i.e., two layers of tightly-woven fabric and a third filter-type layer such as non-woven polypropylene) can still be used and may be preferable to a poorly fitting respirator mask (KN/N95).”

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