Coronavirus: Ontario stockpiled 55 million N95 masks after SARS, officials checking usability

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The Government of Ontario has confirmed to Global News they are looking at using expired medical supplies to deal with the growing coronavirus outbreak in the province.

Approximately 55 million N95 respirator masks were stockpiled in Ontario after the SARS epidemic in 2002.

Officials would only confirm the expiration of those masks but did not reveal how many are left in the stockpile that could potentially be deployed.

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

On average, N95 masks expire after five years for normal use, though in a crisis situation exceptions for their use could be made.

There are mounting concerns from health-care providers about the lack of personal protection equipment, including masks.

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Hayley Chazan, senior media relations manager to Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, issued a statement in response.

“Currently, the ministry is working closely with manufacturers and key partners to explore and evaluate the use of expired supplies including N95 respirators,” she wrote.

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Vicki McKenna, president of the Ontario Nurses’ Association, spoke about the issue earlier this month.

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“We believe that there is a supply problem but government officials will not confirm supply. This question is asked at every meeting with ministry officials,” she said at the time while responding to report the virus could potentially be spread through the air.

“As we learned all too well during SARS, without clear scientific evidence about transmission, every precaution must be taken to protect all front-line nurses and health-care workers.”

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N95 respirators provide a much higher degree of protection as opposed to surgical masks. It’s unclear about the level of degradation, however, once the masks pass five years post-production.

Warren Thomas, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, called on the Ford government to make sure the required tools are “immediately available.”

“The government must provide the necessary tools and resources for our front line health-care workers to protect and care for Ontarians during the COVID-19 crisis,” he said.

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