Demand for face masks causes concern among Canadian health-care workers

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Demand for face masks in Canada remains high, despite Canadian health officials advising that they won’t necessarily protect the general public from the new coronavirus.

“There’s been consistent demand since the whole coronavirus issue started in January, it hasn’t really gone away,” Barry Power, who works with the Canadian Pharmacist Association, told Global News.

He noted that some pharmacies in Canada have noticed the increase in interest. Many pharmacies in Canada carry surgical face masks and N95 respiratory protectors, Power said, noting they are used for a variety of purposes.

For example, people with seasonal allergies or those who are painting may wear different types of masks. He said pharmacies typically carry small packs that contain just a few masks.

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“We’ve heard from a couple that they’re having trouble difficulty or delay getting them for their supplies,” he said.

Amid the rise in demand, Power explained that pharmacists in Canada are encouraging customers to pass on the purchase. He said the advice is in line with what the Public Health Agency of Canada has said.

“They really try to talk people out of buying the mask, because they’re not recommended. People are much better off getting their flu shot, because they’re at a much higher risk of getting influenza,” he said.

Public health officials, including chief public health officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam, have said there is no proven need for those in Canada to wear face masks amid the outbreak.

“Wearing masks when you’re well is not an effective measure. Sometimes it can actually present some risks, as you’re putting your fingers up and down on your face, removing your mask, putting them next to your eyes,” Dr. Tam said at a recent media briefing.

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She noted masks are more useful for people who are “actually sick.”

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Similar advice has been given by the World Health Organization, which says healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if they are caring for someone who is sick.

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WHO also says masks are only effective if they’re used properly, and used in combination with hand-washing and other hygiene practices.

Despite this advice, face masks are selling out online, as well. Several social media users on Twitter have complained the masks are sold out or their prices are inflated.

Popular face mask suppliers on Amazon have been urging consumers to be patient as they cope with the high demand, according to Business Insider. Some of those sellers have also warned against counterfeit products.

Global News reached out to Amazon Canada over the concerns but did not hear back by publication.

Rising demand for face masks is something health-care workers in Canada are carefully tracking, Dr. Susy Hota, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital Research Institute, told Global News.

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“We’re definitely mindful; there’s always going to be supply and demand to consider. So we should think ahead and anticipate what the needs are going to be in the future, not just today,” she said.

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“Hospitals are going through exercises to understand our needs really well and try to make sure we can continue to stay on top of the supply.”

Hota noted there is currently no problem with the supply for surgical masks in Canadian health care facilities. However, she explained the N95 respiratory protectors are part of the health-care plan for Canadian hospitals should they end up investigating cases of the new coronavirus.

“Certain makes of those respirators, because they are fit-tested for people and there are different versions of it that are required, some of those are becoming a little harder to come by,” Hota said.

Hota said hospitals generally stockpile supplies, as well, which can be helpful in cases of manufacturing shortages.

“Any of that can change if we start seeing a large volume of cases, so that’s why it’s important for people not to be using masks and supplies unnecessarily,” she explained.

Earlier this week, Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters that Canada does have a stockpile of masks for domestic use, saying her department is monitoring the rumblings of a supply chain shortage.

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Demand for face masks is also putting a strain on Ontario’s dentists, who say they are experiencing a backlog in some orders.

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Aaron Burry of the Canadian Dental Association said because of concerns raised by dentists, it has contacted distributors of masks, gloves and other protective equipment.

He said suppliers are being “cautious” and “putting measures in place” to control the availability of these products.

Burry acknowledged he’s heard about some supply problems and has been told that boxes of masks have been stolen from dental waiting rooms.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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