Mask shortage is ‘imminent’: Health workers associations urge province to take more action

The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) and Ontario Medical Association (OMA) are urging the provincial government to draw more attention to production of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health-care workers as the threat of shortage becomes more realistic.

“Health-care workers are at high risk of exposure to the virus,” said Dr. Sohail Gandhi, OMA President, said in a statement released today. “Protection for themselves and the patients they care for is vitally important in the battle against this virus.”

The most pressing shortage is for masks.

“We fear that a mask shortage is imminent. This is a serious and dire situation for our frontline workers,” says Dr. Doris Grinspun, RNAO’s CEO. “We must take every action possible to avoid, or at best, delay such an eventuality.”

Last week, Premier Doug Ford put out a call to Ontario manufacturers to shift their resources to producing PPE. This weekend, a government website, Ontario Together, was also created to help the province and companies address medical shortages amid the coronavirus outbreak.

But Grinspun says she hopes the government will “direct some manufacturers” to produce the equipment needed, not just call on them.

“The government has a lot of power with the state of emergency,” she said. “I know the premier is looking into that.”

The statement also urges facilities and individuals, who might have a stockpile of PPE, to donate to their local hospitals. This includes dentists who are not doing emergency work and healthcare facilities with simulation labs — which have temporarily closed — that use this equipment for training.

Releasing expired PPE

Expired PPE, which typically has a lifespan of 5-7 years, is also stockpiled.

In the statement, the OMA and RNAO have asked this inventory to also be released and distributed to hospitals, with a caveat of ensuring the expired materials go to “lower risk areas.”

“As supplies dwindle and we await more supplies the use of the stockpile of expired masks should be strongly considered,” the statement says. “These expired masks could be released now under existing ethical and evidenced-based guidelines to ensure appropriate distribution, i.e. ensuring expired ones go to lower risk areas.”

The associations have also asked for commercial sale of these products to be “prohibited” and any existing private stocks to be “immediately re-possessed” and distributed among frontline health-care workers.


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