‘State of crisis’: Doctors warn some coronavirus protective gear will run out in days

Coronavirus outbreak: Inside the frontline fight for masks, protective gear
Canada’s fight against the novel coronavirus has left front-line health-care workers exhausted and concerned over shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE)

The Canadian Medical Association says “urgent action” is needed to address a “lack of supply” of vital protective gear for health-care workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a press release, the organization says it conducted a survey of 5,000 of its members over the last 48 hours and that the results flagged “a much starker picture of the state of supply at the frontlines than what some of our political leaders have been sharing.”

READ MORE: As more provinces, countries share coronavirus scenarios, Trudeau tells Canadians — wait

“What’s emerging here speaks to a state of crisis,” says Dr. Sandy Buchman, president of the CMA.

“Asking health care workers to be on the frontlines of this pandemic without the proper equipment is irresponsible and shortages must be addressed immediately. People’s lives are on the line here.”

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READ MORE: Can Canada get front-line health workers what they need before it’s too late?

One-third of physicians in community care (offices, walk-in clinics) said they expect to run out of respirators (N95 masks), eye/face shields and goggles/glasses “within two days or fewer, or had already run out.”

Another 71 per cent said they had tried to order supplies in the last month but only 15 per cent had gotten any kind of confirmation that the order was on its way or had arrived.

Physicians identified as working in hospitals reported that they were “largely unaware” of how much supply their facility had left.

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“Many respondents are being asked to ration supplies,” the medical group warned.

Ontario hospitals try to stretch out use of protective equipment
Ontario hospitals try to stretch out use of protective equipment

Health Minister Patty Hajdu is set to hold a phone meeting with the CMA on Friday afternoon.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday that the federal government is spending $2-billion on additional medical supplies to fight the coronavirus amid shortages of ventilators and personal protective gear.

He said Ottawa has signed several contracts with businesses who are retooling their production to focus on medical supplies, and that protective equipment will be purchased from Canada and abroad.

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

Supplies should arrive in the coming days, he added.

“Demand for these goods is going up, so we’re making sure Canada is ready to keep up,” Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday. “This includes things like more masks and face shields, gowns, ventilators, test kits and swabs and hand sanitizer.”

A Thursday phone call between Trudeau and Canadian premiers was constructive, with offers to donate PPE or forego shipments in order for harder-hit regions to receive help, according to a government source.

READ MORE: Canadian companies now manufacturing ventilators, surgical masks 

On Thursday, the prime minister said more than 11 million face masks have arrived in Canada in recent days, including a shipment of one million masks that arrived in Hamilton overnight.

Two Canadian companies have also been tapped by Ottawa to provide one million coronavirus tests and the production of 500 ventilator units in the coming months.

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Ottawa said it has ordered an additional 1,000 ventilators from other manufacturers.

Provinces have been plagued by major shortages in test kits and faced laboratory backlogs in recent weeks as the COVID-19 outbreak has escalated.

ICU beds, ventilators and COVID-19 infection modelling discussed in the Alberta legislature
ICU beds, ventilators and COVID-19 infection modelling discussed in the Alberta legislature

Global supply chains have been squeezed by a demand for testing supplies, including nasal swabs and the chemical reagents used to complete the diagnostic tests.

The shortage of tests and protective gear have led to rationing at hospitals across the country as health-care workers battle the deadly virus.

— With files by Global News’ Mercedes Stephenson