Students, faculty and staff can wear their purple pride as they don Western-branded facemasks to protect the health of campus colleagues.
Each member of the campus community will receive made-in-Ontario reusable masks – more than 121,000 in total – as Western seeks to control the spread of COVID-19 by making face coverings mandatory in the presence of others and in common and shared spaces.
Western’s decision is in line with Middlesex-London Health Unit instructions, issued July 17, that individuals must wear face coverings while in indoor public spaces such as stores and institutional buildings.
Months before that call, Western was among the first universities in Ontario to decide to provide masks to its community, said Dr. Sydney Siu, a physician member of Western’s COVID-19 Task Force and Health and Safety team.
Face coverings can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 when properly worn and used, and used in combination with frequent hand washing and physical distancing. These are not intended to be medical masks, which have higher levels of protection, and should be washed after daily use.
Western’s Health and Safety team had specific requirements for the non-medical masks – they had to be reusable, latex-free, and made of cotton or polypropylene. They needed to be comfortable, fit well over the mouth and nose, keep their size and shape after at least a few washings and be breathable even after becoming damp with condensation, Siu said.
These masks fit that bill.
The ones that will be mass distributed have two layers of durable but breathable fabric. They are made by TakeCare Supply, based in the Toronto area.
The 100-per-cent-cotton cloth was woven in Canada, dyed in Brampton and manufactured in Scarborough, at a former mitten factory that pivoted in March to the mask-making business.
The company whose mask specifications met all the requirements is a business coincidentally (and not a factor in procurement) started by alumni Kevin Vuong, BMOS’11, and Larry Lau, BA’09, MBA’18.
Since it began, TakeCare Supply has become even more Canadianized in its supply chain and has created or supported jobs for more than 200 people, Vuong said. It has sold more than 500,000 reusable, non-medical masks to individuals, companies and a variety of institutions.
“When we started TakeCare Supply, our initial focus was on serving as a rapid response to COVID-19,” Lau said. “With masks now a part of the new normal, our focus is on building a social enterprise rooted in local manufacturing, sustainability and community involvement. Western represents all of this, and I am proud to be providing Western with masks.”
Before ordering the Western-branded face coverings, Western also purchased 37,000 face coverings from two local companies, The Over Company and Positive Identity.
“This was to address the immediate needs of the staff and faculty already working on campus and for the first phase of return to campus. Western wanted to ensure a safe environment for our employees,” said Peter Jeffs, Director of Procurement Services.
Meanwhile, because one size doesn’t always fit all, additional masks have been custom-ordered, including masks with clear plastic ‘mouth windows’ for people who would benefit from lip-reading.
Siu said it’s important masks be worn correctly over the mouth and nose and be handled correctly when taken off while the user is eating. “The best way is to fold it up and put it in a ZipLock bag or pouch and place in your pocket when eating.”
These masks will be made available to faculty and staff through their departments/units; graduate students should connect with their supervisor to obtain their masks; and details are being worked out for distribution to undergraduate students. Students in residence will receive their masks when they arrive for move-in.
Meanwhile, alumni and the broader community can also purchase the Western-branded masks (available in packs of three) by making an online order through The Book Store at Western.
More information about Western’s response to the pandemic, and enhanced health and safety protocols on campus, can be found on the University’s COVID-19 website.