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Coronavirus: Some nurses still do not have appropriate PPE

OTTAWA – When news of the first cases of COVID-19 began to crop up in Canada in early 2020, Linda Silas was one of the first to sound the alarm about the lack of proper personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.

As early indications showed the virus was spreading through droplets that settled on surfaces, Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses, urged health officials to learn lessons from the 2003 SARS epidemic and to take the highest level of precaution.

Now she knows she was right – the virus is suspended in the air – but she is still desperate for more protective equipment for nurses two years later.

Regional unions across the country are reporting that nurses who have requested tight-fit respirators still cannot get them in some cases, although the Omicron variant is much more transmissible than previous variants.

The shortage of healthy nurses to deal with the massive surge in the Omicron variant has meant hospitals and other healthcare facilities have deployed nurses with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and some are still not being offered. appropriate masks, she said.

“These vulnerable patients could have COVID positive staff treating them, and without the proper PPE it’s just dangerous,” she said.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, describes the spread of COVID-19 as a cloud of smoke rising from a person’s mouth and nose. She and other doctors have suggested that the public use more effective masks to protect themselves.

Silas said that often in places such as immunization clinics, members of the public appear to be better equipped with the proper protective equipment than health workers.

“It’s a mishmash, and it’s a fight,” Silas said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “In long-term care it’s a real fight, in community care it’s a real fight and in acute care it depends on where you work.

Different hospitals seem to take different approaches when it comes to providing PPE to nurses, which doesn’t make sense, she said, “because science is science.”

Canada’s supply chain is likely to blame, said Anne Snowdon, a professor at the University of Windsor, a registered nurse who studies health systems and supply chains.

“The problem has always been the supply chain. The result of the limitations of our supply chain is that we cannot access these protection products which are so important in terms of reducing the risk of transmitting this virus to our workforce, and also to our patients ” Snowdon said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

The limited supply of PPE was perhaps more understandable at the start of the pandemic, but critics like Silas wonder how Canada could still find itself in a similar predicament in many parts of the healthcare system.

The answer, Snowdon said, is that the infrastructure was so bad to begin with.

“We build the bridges we drive over,” she said.

In other sectors, such as construction, essential workers would not be in the same situation, Silas said, because they would have the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions.

But health workers cannot do the same without the ethical guilt of abandoning patients. It’s the same guilt that drives nurses to work 16- to 24-hour shifts or take on large patient loads, she said.

“It is this ethical guilt that hangs over health workers.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 14, 2022.