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Coronavirus: Saskatchewan nurses union says it’s not getting proper protective gear

Saskatchewan nurses union says it’s not getting proper protective gear to address COVID-19
WATCH: The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses says it's not being provided the proper protective wear nurses need to keep themselves safe while testing residents for COVID-19.

With Saskatoon’s second presumptive case of COVID-19, the province is planning to set up assessment facilities to test more people for the virus — but the nurses who’ll be on the front lines say they’re not being properly protected.

The problem is getting nurses a specific type of mask. N95 masks are the most effective protective wear, according to the president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) Tracy Zambory.

They’re also in short supply.

“Nobody ever goes to work thinking they’re going to come away from work with a potential to pass away because they haven’t had the proper protective equipment on,” Zambory said.

“Because of the worldwide shortage of some personal protective equipment, particularly the N95s, [the provincial government is] trying to really limit where is it that this equipment is used.”

READ MORE: Roughly 55 million N95 masks in Ontario expired before coronavirus hit

SUN said it’s imperative their members have these masks to do their jobs. They’ve been offered surgical masks and eyewear instead.

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Zambory said that’s not enough for nurses getting close to people who may be infected.

Tests are done through swabs up someone’s nostrils, something Zambory said often makes patients sneeze. Without proper protection, she worries about what could happen to front-line staff who get exposed.

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“This is going to spread,” Zambory said.

“We will have a massive outbreak if we don’t take a step back, take a deep breath and realize that testing requires it, the people that are doing the tests, the confirmed and suspected cases require N95s.”

To date, the province said it’s tested over 300 people.

Details on these new assessment sites are few and far between. The provincial government has said they’ll be in Regina and Saskatoon and could also pop up in other areas.

Sites in Saskatoon and Regina could open this weekend or early next week.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan confirms second presumptive case of COVID-19: Ministry of Health

“Throughout the province, provisions are being made to make it easier for someone to be safely tested in a timely way, even in a rural setting,” said the province’s chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab.

Global News has asked the provincial government why nurses do not have N95 masks. No one was immediately available for comment.

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Concerned about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians, but they caution against travel to affected areas (a list can be found here). If you do travel to these places, they recommend you self-monitor to see whether you develop symptoms and if you do, to contact public health authorities.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.