The Alberta government will provide every resident with four non-medical face masks, as the province continues its phased approach to relaunch the economy.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced Friday morning that the government has partnered with A&W, McDonald’s Canada and Tim Hortons to distribute the masks at the restaurants’ drive-thru locations.
The masks will be free of charge and there is no purchase necessary at the restaurant.
“Alberta is the first and so far, as far as I know, the only province that has decided to distribute masks province-wide,” Shandro said. “This program will help Albertans get back to work and enjoy everyday activities safely.”
While mask use is not mandatory, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health has recommended Albertans wear a non-medical mask when two metres of physical distance cannot be maintained, such as on public transit.
A total of about 20 million non-medical masks will be distributed at a cost of around $20 million. Shandro said partnering with the fast-food restaurants will cut down on the distribution cost to government, which is around $350,000.
“These three partners are doing it without added expense to the Alberta taxpayer,” Shandro said.
The drive-thru pickup also provides safe physical distancing for Albertans, as people will be able to stay in their vehicles.
Shandro said the three restaurant companies have about 600 drive-thru locations in the province, and 95 per cent of Albertans live within 10 kilometres of one of these locations.
The province is working on a plan to ensure distribution of masks is possible to the remaining five per cent of the population, Shandro said.
“Even if you don’t have an A&W, a McDonald’s or a Tim Hortons in your community, you will be able to get your four masks,” he said.
The government’s distribution cost is “for us to be able to pay for the gap distribution for the other five per cent of folks who may not be able to get to a drive-thru,” according to Shandro.
Distribution will be done on the honour system.
“We’re not asking for folks to bring in their health-care card and get a punch to show that they’re already picked up,” Shandro said.
“This is on the honour system, but Albertans are responsible and they’ve shown us that. Throughout the response to this pandemic, Albertans have shown us that they are responsible.
“Obviously there may be some folks who will be unable to make their way to a drive-thru — I’m thinking about one of my parents in particular — and whether it’s me or one of my siblings who has to go pick up for my parents, that’s going to be the case. And the folks at the 600 stores, the employees, are going to just have to trust Albertans and we’re going to have to trust Albertans.”
The health minister stressed the three-layered, non-medical face masks are not part of the provincial supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) meant for health-care workers and first responders.
The masks are single-use, Shandro said.
“They are not medical grade masks. We are not taking away any of the PPE from our front lines,” Shandro said.
In a media release from the province, all three restaurants expressed their pleasure to be part of the mask program.
“A&W is very pleased to support the government of Alberta with this great initiative. Our restaurants across the province have been quick to step up and help organize the distribution of masks, and are looking forward to welcoming Albertans at our drive-thrus,” A&W Canada president and CEO Susan Senecal said.
“McDonald’s Canada, together with our franchisees, have been committed to helping our communities throughout this pandemic. We welcome this opportunity to use our drive-thru operations to assist the Alberta government, and do the right thing for Albertans when they need us most,” said Jeff Kroll with McDonald’s Canada.
“Throughout the pandemic, the 1,500 Tim Hortons owners across Canada have been eagerly supporting their local communities and stepping up to answer calls for assistance. When we were asked by the Alberta government to help distribute masks through our drive-thrus we did not hesitate. We’re proud to have been asked to participate in this important program and do our part to help Alberta move forward on its relaunch strategy,” Tim Hortons COO Mike Hancock said.
Tanya Doucette, a Tim Hortons owner who runs eight locations across central Alberta, said the province has asked that they not hand out the mask bags inside the restaurant, just through the drive-thru.
“They want to ensure safe social distancing, and I think because they’re worried people might show up in large numbers and queues in person, that could create risk,” Doucette said.
“We have acrylic shields in our drive-thrus and our team members are wearing non-medical grade masks, so this is a safe distance option to hand out the masks.”
She said people must be in a vehicle, they cannot walk through the drive-thru.
“What you can do if you don’t have a vehicle or you don’t have access to a vehicle, you can ask a friend or family member to pick up your allotment of masks for you through a drive-thru location at Tim Hortons,” she said.
Representatives from McDonald’s and A&W also say that masks will only be handed out through the drive-thru, and people must be in a vehicle.
The masks have arrived and will be ready for distribution early next month. Further details of the rollout will be released in the coming days.
Shandro encouraged Albertans to source their own non-medical masks through local businesses or make their own at home.
“This is not meant to be able to provide Albertans with an unlimited supply.”
More information on how to safely put on and take off a non-medical face mask can be found on the government’s website.
Shandro said that on Friday morning, Alberta surpassed the 250,000 mark when it comes to how many COVID-19 tests have been performed in the province. He said about 220,000 unique Albertans have been tested, as some people have been tested twice.
On Thursday, Alberta Health reported 29 new cases of COVID-19 in Alberta and two additional deaths related to the disease.
There were 652 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta on Thursday afternoon.
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