“Some have recently questioned the ability of Alberta’s government to purchase the requisite 1.6 million reusable masks in time for the start of K-12 classes this fall. Orders totalling 1.7 million masks have been placed ­– one to IFR, an Alberta-based company, and the other to Old Navy. The total value of the mask contracts is $4.2 million.

“When the school re-entry plan was announced on June 10 and a decision on how students would return to school was announced on July 21, it was indicated that the decision on masks in schools was still pending, as Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw was still considering emerging scientific evidence from other jurisdictions. Despite this pending decision, Alberta Education, in conjunction with the Provincial Operations Centre (POC), began preparing for the contingency should Dr. Hinshaw decide to recommend masking in schools.

“Given the expediency required, the POC has directly approached experienced, established vendors to fulfil personal protective equipment (PPE) needs for school reopenings. Government of Alberta contracting policies allow for this expedited process in urgent situations, as a standard request for proposal tendering process would not allow the government to fulfil our schools’ needs in the timely manner required.

“Alberta has excelled at the urgent need to purchase PPE. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the POC has successfully procured more than six million masks, and the Pandemic Response Planning Team has also procured more than six million masks. This does not include the 185 million clinical masks purchased directly by Alberta Health Services. Forty million masks were also distributed directly to Albertans. 

“Both Alberta Education and the POC are confident that masks, sanitizer, thermometers and face shields will be distributed to school divisions prior to the resumption of classes. Students, schools and staff will receive their PPE for the beginning of the school year.

“We understand the eagerness of some local businesses to help with the effort. Often, these are businesses that manufactured non-PPE products prior to the pandemic and/or have more limited production capacity. We sincerely appreciate the enthusiasm of those wanting to help. That said, our primary objective is ensuring the large volume of reusable masks can be obtained and distributed in time for the start of the school year.”