Coronavirus: Some nurses still don’t have proper PPE

OTTAWA — When news of the first cases of COVID-19 began emerging in Canada in early 2020, Linda Silas was one of the first to ring alarm bells about the lack of proper personal protective equipment for health workers.

While initial indications showed that the virus was spread by droplets that settled on surfaces, Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses, urged health authorities to learn from the 2003 SARS outbreak and take the highest level of precautions.

She now knows she was right – the virus is airborne – but she is still fervently calling for more protective gear for nurses two years later.

Regional unions across the country report that nurses who have requested suitable respirators are still unable to obtain them in some cases, even though the Omicron variant is more transmissible than previous variants.

She said the shortage of healthy nurses to cope with the massive wave of the Omicron variant means hospitals and other health institutions have deployed nurses with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and some are still not providing proper masks.

“These vulnerable patients may have positive coronavirus staff treating them, and without proper PPE it is 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 someone’s mouth and nose. She and other medical officials have suggested that the public use more effective masks to protect themselves.

Often in places like vaccine clinics, members of the public appear to be better equipped with appropriate protective equipment than health workers, Silas said.

“It’s a mixture, and it’s a fight,” Silas said in an interview with the Canadian Press. “In long-term care it’s a real battle, in community care it’s a real battle 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.”

University of Windsor professor Ann Snowdon, a registered nurse who studies health systems and supply chains, said Canadian supply chains are likely to blame.

“The problem has always been the supply chain. The result of our supply chain constraints is the inability to access those protective products that are so important in terms of reducing the risk of transmission of this virus to our workforce, as well as our patients,” Snowdon said in an interview with the Canadian Press. .

The scarce supply of personal protective equipment may have been more understandable in the early days of the pandemic, but critics like Silas question how Canada could remain in a similar situation in so many parts of the health system.

The answer, Snowdon said, is that the infrastructure was very poor at first.

“We build the bridges that we walk on,” she said.

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

But health workers cannot do the same without the moral guilt of abandoning patients. It’s the same guilt that makes nurses work 16 to 24 hours, or take on so much sickness, she said.

“It is moral guilt that is putting pressure on the health care workforce.”

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

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