While it will be six weeks before smaller masks are available in high schools, a Quebec entrepreneur says he can deliver millions now at a fraction of the price of those currently distributed in the school network.
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Éric Éthier is President of MedSup Canada, a medical equipment retailer with distribution centers in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. The company supplies procedural masks to several big box stores, including the Costco chain.
Since the start of the school year, several school service centers have been dealing with the company for their protective equipment needs.
Mr. Éthier jumped on Tuesday when he heard Prime Minister François Legault say that it will be six weeks before smaller masks are available in secondary schools, where students have since Monday had to adjust as best they can adult masks too big for them.
“I have 50 million children’s masks in warehouses in Toronto and Montreal that could be delivered quickly. I have been offering the government an integrated, easy and inexpensive solution for months. It’s up to the wall, ”says the entrepreneur, who says he wants to“ be part of the solution ”.
Cheaper at Costco
The procedural masks that have been distributed to high schools since Monday come from the Department of Health’s reserve, which says their average cost is $ 0.67 per unit.
However, this is an “average cost since March 2020”, specifies one of its spokespersons, Noémie Vanheuverzwijn. “The cost of masks is falling,” she adds.
Mr. Éthier nevertheless considers that this is a “scandal” since the same masks are available at a fraction of this price in big box stores.
At Costco, a 50-pack of procedural masks sells for around $ 10, which works out to $ 0.20 per consumer. At Costco Enterprise, the price at the cash register even comes down to $ 0.08 per unit, according to information obtained by The newspaper.
In response to some of our questions, the Department of Health referred us to the Government Acquisitions Center, where it was pointed out that a call for tenders process is in place in the Government of Quebec.
“The government is currently in discussions with several companies regarding a possible supply of surgical masks. We are in the process of validating the conformity of the masks before going any further, ”we were told in writing.
Regarding the delivery times of six weeks, it is indicated that “from the moment an acquisition mandate is given, steps must be taken in compliance with government contractual rules and follow a rigorous process which can extend over a few weeks.”
Éric Éthier, who carefully scrutinizes the calls for tenders published by the government for protective equipment, affirms that nothing has been published in this regard recently.
Since the state of health emergency was declared in March due to the pandemic, certain provisions concerning the tendering process have been suspended. The aim is to enable public bodies to conclude contracts more quickly in order to protect the health of the population.
Masks more difficult to recycle
The procedural masks distributed in high schools are not only more expensive than others, but they are also more difficult to recycle.
In addition to providing medical equipment, MedSup Canada recycles protective equipment, including the famous “blue” masks that must be worn by all high school students since Monday.
This is one of the four companies identified by Recyc-Quebec as offering a recycling service for procedural masks in the province, with which schools can enter into agreements.
In the MedSup recycling plant, the materials that make up the masks – elastic, polypropylene and aluminum – are sorted and separated.
However, the masks currently distributed in the school network are different from those usually found. A thin layer of plastic is added to the propylene which covers the nose and mouth, which complicates their recycling, explains Éric Éthier, president of MedSup. “It just screw up,” he says.
One of its teams is currently carrying out laboratory analyzes to find out if these masks can be recycled.
The operation could be possible, but it may be longer and more expensive to carry out, deplores Mr. Éthier.
In the school network, several have lamented in recent days that the Ministry of Education has not put in place a uniform and generalized process to recycle the hundreds of thousands of procedural masks that are thrown away every day in schools. secondary.
It is up to each school to conclude agreements and several establishments send their masks directly to the trash.
Each week, 4.7 million procedural masks will be used in secondary schools, according to the Department of Education.