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A mask with a side of fries: Restaurants to help distribute PPE

Last Updated May 29, 2020 at 6:43 pm MDT

EDMONTON (660 NEWS) – You could call it the COVID-19 combo.

In an effort to distribute millions of non-medical masks to Albertans, the province is partnering with fast-food restaurants to get them directly to you.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced Friday that they have worked out a deal with A&W, McDonald’s and Tim Hortons to start distributing 20 million single-use masks.

“There are nearly 600 partner drive-thrus in our province, 95 per cent of Albertans live within 10 kilometres of one of these 600,” said Shandro.

“Using the drive-thrus for distribution also ensures physical distancing can be maintained because people stay in their vehicles when picking up the masks.”

Masks will only be available at the drive-thrus, with the distribution beginning sometime in early June.

Each package contains four masks.

“These non-medical masks are not personal protective equipment, they’re not part of the supply of PPE for our health care workers and first responders just to be clear,” he said.

“The masks will be free of charge to Albertans and no purchase will be necessary to be able to obtain them.”

Shandro said the restaurants volunteered for this initiative and this method also saves on distribution costs as they can pick them up from provincial facilities as part of regular delivery runs.

He estimated that this will cost about $350,000 and they also have orders out for 20 million more masks.

Since these are single-use masks, Shandro said they intend for them to part of your own supply of reusable masks and they cannot give an unlimited supply to all Albertans.

“As the province relaunches and we all adapt to our new normal, we all may find ourselves in situations where physical distancing may not be possible. For example, riding transit in the province or shopping.”

People are also being asked to limit themselves to one package per person, although there may be some challenges if people go to a drive-thru and say they want multiple packages for everyone in their family.

“We’re not asking for folks to bring in their health care card and get it punched to show that they’ve already picked up,” he said.

“This is on the honour system, but Albertans are responsible. They’ve shown us that throughout the response to this pandemic.”

There are still some gaps in the supply method, and Shandro added they still have some more work to do before it is completely finalized in the coming weeks.

“We’re also working out alternatives for communities that don’t have easy access to a drive-thru, including small municipalities or Indigenous communities in Alberta, Metis settlements, and local agencies.”

He promised that even if you don’t have one of these restaurants in your community, there will be ways to get the masks distributed.

The plan does come with some concerns, with an expert noting this could just end up causing an increase in litter as we have already seen masks and gloves left strewn on the streets.

“People will use these once or twice and then throw them away,” said Lorian Hardcastle, assistant professor with the Faculty of Law and Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary.

“One of the issues that hasn’t been discussed a lot with COVID is of course the amount of medical waste that is going to be generated.”

In addition, there are questions as to if people working at fast food restaurants are actually properly equipped to handle the distribution of such important supplies.

“It’s not clear that people making minimum wage in drive-thrus are going to be adequately protected or trained to serve people who may be procuring masks because they’re symptomatic and don’t want to transmit the disease to people around them,” she said.

With that final note, Hardcastle advised anyone who is showing COVID-19 symptoms to instead follow public health guidelines such as self-isolating and contacting officials to try and get a test.

On social media, some people have asked how they can get a mask if they don’t have a car, but a statement from Tim Hortons indicated that there will be solutions figured out.

“We’re following the government’s lead on how they would like masks distributed in the safest way possible, with social distancing in mind, and so masks will be available in the drive-thru only and not inside our restaurants. We’re told the government will be providing alternatives for those who don’t have a vehicle,” said Mike Hancock, Chief Operating Officer of Tim Hortons.

Hancock added that they “did not hesitate” to help with the plan after being asked by the Alberta government.
McDonald’s Canada also said this will be a way to help the community through the 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, Restaurant Support Officer and COVID response lead.

But for McDonald’s, it was made clear that drive-thrus are for traffic only and anyone without vehicles is asked to call 211 to get masks sent to them or visit the province’s website for more information.

A similar message was passed along by A&W, as a statement read you will have to find a different way to get a mask if you don’t have a car or to call the province.

“Drive-thru rules are in place to ensure the safety of all guests and staff. If guests are not able to access a drive-thru with a vehicle, we are asking them to consider reaching out to a friend or neighbour for help,” the company said.