A quick Google search reveals a pack of N95 masks can cost anywhere from $5 to $20.
The Anzac Day long weekend lockdown cost the WA economy $70 million, according to the state government, though the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA estimates the lockdown and ensuing restrictions hit closer to $170 million.
The maths is simple: anyone who works in a quarantine hotel should be provided with N95 masks, because no matter the price to purchase or effort to implement their use, the alternative costs the state so much more.
While the long weekend lockdown was not guard-related, the most recent case, case 1001, was a security guard at the Pan Pacific quarantine hotel who likely caught the virus from a returned traveller from the United States.
Ventilation has been ruled out as an issue, but Health Minister Roger Cook said the guard was in close proximity with the US traveller and authorities are exploring the hotel’s lift and its buttons as a potential exposure event.
Even as a theory this case should scream the need for better PPE.
N95 masks filter out 95 per cent of airborne particles, making them a far more effective tool at stopping the inhalation of COVID-19 for the wearer than a regular surgical mask.
Hindsight is a beautiful thing and while we can never be totally sure in case 1001 whether an N95 mask could have prevented him contracting the virus, this whole response has been about mitigating risk wherever possible.
Frustratingly, this lesson was already there to be learnt after the transmission from a guest to a guard sitting in the corridor at the Four Points by Sheraton in January, known as case 903.
One of the country’s most respected public health professors, Tarun Weeramanthri, was appointed to look at how WA could improve its quarantine system after that case, which sparked a five-day lockdown and a further week of restrictions.
“Strongly consider a higher level of respiratory protection(e.g. P2/N95 masks and/or eye protection) for all workers at sites where ventilation maybe problematic or not adequately assessed,” was the recommendation in his final report.
Professor Weeramanthri has since urged governments to place more emphasis on the airborne nature of the virus in their COVID-19 response.
Victoria also made N95 masks mandatory in its quarantine hotels following the February outbreak.
Despite these warnings, the WA government continues to resist making N95 mask standard practice because they are uncomfortable on long shifts, which increases the risk of touching and adjusting them and consequently reducing their infection control effectiveness.
“The express advice we’ve had from a range of doctors working in public health, it’s not advisable for them to wear the N95 mask and the reason for that is they become wet, they become uncomfortable, they mean that the guards or the cleaners, or whoever it might be, move them far more often,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said on Monday.
Mr Cook said workers required fit testing and training to wear N95 masks effectively.
However, health professionals and tradies wear N95 masks all the time, often for long periods, so these arguments begin to wear thin.
Surely a government that has prided itself on an abundance of caution during this pandemic can muster the resources to fit and train its workers to wear this PPE correctly?
Surely these workers, who are risking a lot by working in these hotels, would at least want the choice of using equipment that could better protect them from life-threatening illness?
Australian Medical Association WA president Andrew Miller has repeatedly called on the government to reduce the lengths of shifts for guards and other workers if that was the main concern for authorities.
As the ultimate employer of these workers, that would also be an easy move for the government.
Dr Miller claims the resistance to N95 or equivalent comes from “tribalism” within health authorities who staked their reputations on masks not being necessary back when the virus had only just reached our shores. However, he says more and more policymakers are changing their tune.
If this is the case, any remaining stubbornness is putting the livelihood of the state at risk at best and, at worst, the health of its people.
So let’s pull out the calculator and do the maths.