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Coronavirus: Kelowna doctor warns of ‘critical’ shortage of personal protective equipment

B.C. officials are monitoring supplies of personal protective equipment amid COVID-19 outbreak
Dr. Bonnie Henry tells reporters at a COVID-19 briefing that there has been a dramatic increase in the use of personal protective equipment in the medical system. She says officials are sourcing new supplies and looking for ways to manage and preserve equipment in the future.

A Kelowna family physician is speaking out about what she calls a “critical” shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line workers battling COVID-19.

Dr. Janneme Frouws says while her family practice is closed to in-person appointments, she’s been in touch with healthcare colleagues at B.C. hospitals on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic who fear for their safety as the infectious disease continues to spread.

“There is a critical shortage,” she told Global News Monday.

“Physicians and nurses, including other front-line workers like social workers that directly work with people that are sick, face to face, are severely rationed with their use of PPE.”

READ MORE: Kingston woman raises donations to provide personal protective equipment to nurses

Frouws said nurses at Kelowna General Hospital (KGH) have been directed to re-use face masks in the wake of dwindling supplies.

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“I’ve spoken to some nurses that work on the ground that are extremely anxious… they are asked to re-use them, specifically masks, they get one mask per day, they have to put it in a container at the end of the day and re-use it,” Frouws said.

“They were currently told they are not allowed to speak out with the threat of being fired.”

Frouws said the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus has offered to help to liaise, store and distribute donated supplies to IHA.

READ MORE: At least 2 Toronto hospitals begin rationing protective gear as COVID-19 crisis deepens

If you have personal protective equipment that you’re able to donate, contact Frouws at maskdonationskelowna@gmail.com.

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At a press conference last week, B.C.’s top doctor, Bonnie Henry, said officials have learned that the “burn rate,” or consumption rate, for personal protective equipment for health workers is “much higher than would be expected.”

More equipment is on order, she said, as the province look at others ways to procure the gear.

She acknowledged that supply was tight, in the meantime.

READ MORE: ‘A lot of uncertainty’ about protective equipment during COVID-19 pandemic, doctors say

“We are putting in place measures now to try and control that and be more efficient and effective in how we are using PPE,” she told reporters.

Those measures could include “cohorting” infected patients together, she said, so that a health worker wouldn’t need to change equipment after each contact, or re-using equipment that had been safely cleaned.

The federal government is also tackling the problem.

Canada’s innovation minister said that the country is moving quickly to increase production of PPE in its fight against the novel coronavirus.

“We are mobilizing industry at an unprecedented rate to scale up operations, to retool,” Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, told Global News’ Mike Le Couteur on The West Block.

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“There’s a lot of goodwill out there.”

“Many companies are stepping up and we’re going to engage with them. And I’m confident that we’ll have more supplies, not less, going forward in the coming weeks and months.”

Personal protective equipment, which includes items such as gloves, masks and gowns, is essential for health-care staff in direct contact with the virus.

On Mar. 20, the federal government announced a plan to work with Canadian businesses and manufacturers in order to boost production of protective equipment, ventilators and sanitization supplies to fight the fast-spreading virus.

Global News has reached out to the Interior Health Authority for comment.

With files from Maham Abedi, David Lao, Simon Little