Coronavirus: Advocate says lack of masks can lead to isolation

A woman who depends on the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program said she is struggling to afford face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said that limits where she can go and when and she feels isolated as a result.

An advocate, who is part of the Saskatoon Inter-Agency Response to COVID-19, said that’s the real issue.

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Jean Leray has a severe learning disability and Klippel-Feil Syndrome, a skeletal disorder, and is unable to work.

She receives a little less than $1,200 a month from the SAID program, and about $260 in rental assistance. After paying her rent, for her groceries, various medications, physiotherapy when she can afford it and medicinal cannabis, without which she said she’d be throwing up in bed all day from the pain, she has a hard time saving money to buy new masks.

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“You only have the $1164 a month to live off of, and I know some people might think that’s a lot for someone who’s single, but it really isn’t,” she said, speaking over Zoom from Warman, Sask.

She told Global News she currently only has two masks. The first is a reusable cloth mask that she washes.

The other is a disposable mask she continually disinfects instead of throwing away.

She said her lack of masks, which are mandatory Saskatchewan, limits her ability to leave home or interact with others.

“I say home a lot. I already stayed home a lot prior to the pandemic but now I guess I’m just more isolated,” she said.

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Robin Mitchell, director of operations at Crocus Co-operative, a Saskatoon non-profit organization that works with and employs people suffering from mental illness, said that feeling of isolation is the bigger issue.

“The isolated individual who doesn’t have a support system is being left behind, absolutely,” Mitchell told Global News.

He said the SAID program provides basic levels of income for housing and food and that any additional costs could mean more strain on a recipient’s finances and, possibly, their mental health.

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“An added expenditure for hand sanitizer, for disposable masks is just something that I think for some people, they say… I can’t afford this.”

“We worry about the mental health of everybody… feeling that they can’t afford or don’t know how to find a mask.  That just adds to the anguish and unsettledness that a lot of people are feeling right now.”

He stressed that he believes it can be easy to get a mask. He said about 10 per cent of Crocus’ clients are homeless and they’ve told him they can get one from agencies around the city. He also said he’s seen some clients with reusable cloth masks.

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But he said he believed many people are wearing disposable masks longer than they should because they don’t have access to a sustainable supply, which would be especially hard for someone who is isolated.

“My sense is that people are wearing masks a lot longer than they should because they don’t have a lot of masks,” he said.

Ellen McGuire, the director of income assistance delivery with the Ministry of Social Services, said in a statement income assistance staff are available to help.

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“Clients are asked to connect with their workers to ensure they are fully accessing all of the income supports available to meet their basic needs. They can also receive support in developing longer-term plans, help with household budgeting and money management if they need, as well,” she said via email.

She also mentioned a one-time benefit the government gave to income assistance clients earlier in the year “in recognition of additional costs around COVID-19.”

That benefit, announced in June, was $50.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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