BRADFORD -- Front line health care workers at a long-term care home in Bradford walked out of their workplace on Thursday, demanding more personal protective equipment.

“To protect us as workers, our families, the residents that live here, and also the community,” explained local CUPE President Lana Whiteside.

The nurses, personal support workers, and other staff members held up signs, with the words ‘Help us’ as they staged a short walkout during shift change at the Bradford Valley Care Community on Thursday afternoon.

Sixteen residents and four staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 at the residence, and the workers feel they’re working with inadequate gear in the midst of an outbreak. They are demanding N95 masks, the masks that filter out 95 percent of airborne particles, instead of the surgical, material-made masks they wear now.

“We are an essential service,” says Whiteside. “And if we’re not here, these residents have nobody.”

They joined CUPE members who took similar action across Ontario, calling on the province to hear their pleas.

Sienna Senior Living, who runs the Bradford centre, says they are following provincial guidelines when it comes to the masks.

“A surgical mask is what is recommended in the provincial directives,” Sienna Senior Living wrote in a statement. “Team members, who perform procedures (such as suctioning) when caring for a resident who is suspected or confirmed with COVID-19, are provided with a respirator, also known as an N95 mask.”

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit says the softer surgical masks are sufficient because COVID-19 doesn’t transmit through the air.

“This a disease that is droplet transmitted,” says Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Charles Gardner. “For most encounters with patients with COVID-19, they really need a surgical mask or a procedure mask.”

He went on to say, “N95 masks are more protective, but they are really reserved for airborne infectious diseases.”

But the Bradford Valley Care Community workers argue they work closely with residents who have tested positive and can get sneezed on or coughed on.

“The girls are up close. They have to do hands-on care,” says Whiteside.

The workers are asking the province to change regulations and to supply the N95 masks.