TORONTO — Some parents in Ontario are raising concerns about the three-ply cloth masks their children received from schools this week, saying the masks are too big and not protective enough against the highly-contagious Omicron variant.
The provincial government said it would be providing school staff with N95 masks and students with three-ply cloth masks as in-person learning resumed this week.
A spokeswoman said the province sends a mix of sizes to boards, which have the flexibility to place varying orders for the sizes their students need. A few boards said the masks they received were too big for some young children and said they were working on addressing the issue.
In Guelph, Ont., Nathan Poulton said his two kids - aged four and six - received one three-ply cloth mask each from school, but the mask doesn't fit his younger son's face well.
"It fits one kid and … just kind of sags off the other kid's face," he said. "It is adjustable, but the size difference between a four-year-old and a six-year-old's faces is pretty big.”
Poulton said he recently purchased child-sized N95 masks for his kids, and plans to give them those to use instead, since they fit better and are higher grade masks.
The Upper Grand District School Board in Guelph said the board has heard "some comments that the masks are too big for some students."
Spokeswoman Heather Loney said school administrators have been reminded "to ensure the fit of the cloth masks and to make every effort to ensure that students receive an appropriately sized mask when distributed."
The board said it received the masks from the Ministry of Education based on the enrollment numbers - children in kindergarten received "child" masks, those in Grades 1 to 6 received "youth" masks, while students in Grades 7 and 8 received "adult" masks. The board has also purchased additional student masks to ensure "readily available and additional size options," Loney said.
The Durham District School Board also said it noticed some masks shipped from the province were "too large for most students" and said it had requested smaller masks.
In the Toronto area, Jenna Leon said her seven-year-old daughter received one mask this week that was "way too big" and called the quality of it "mediocre."
"The upper part is too big to go up her nose. The width is too loose and floppy. The ties for the ears don’t do anything to tighten the mask," she said.
Leon said her daughter will wear medical masksthe family purchased until N95 masks she ordered arrive at their home.
"It’s so hard to understand how this is layers of robust protection for my child at school," she said of the mask her daughter received at a school in the Halton Catholic District School Board.
The Halton board did not respond to a request for comment.
Kristen Fenlon, whose two kids attend a school in the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, said the masks her children received are also far too big.
"I would say they're probably an extra large size ... they didn't even fit me," she said, adding that her children will be wearing the higher grade medical masks she purchased.
The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board said it hadn't received any complaints from parents and "had no input on sizes or quantities" of masks sent by the province.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government sends "pro-active allocations to boards" with a mix of sizes.
Caitlin Clark said when boards place orders for the masks, “they have the flexibility to order whatever volume in whatever size they would like and need for their student populations.”
"With even more shipments of varying sizes on the way, we encourage boards to work with students to ensure they’re receiving the right size option," she said.
Clark noted that Ontario is following the expert advice of the chief medical officer of health, Children’s Health Coalition and Ontario’s Science Table "regarding PPE use to protect schools and reduce risk for students and staff."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press