Nurses’ union and NSHA calm fears over COVID-19 ‘one mask per shift’ policy

Nurses’ union and NSHA calm fears over COVID-19 ‘one mask per shift’ policy
WATCH: A group of nurses in the province have expressed hygiene and safety concerns over the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s new ‘one mask per shift’ policy, brought in earlier this week as a conservation measure for personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Elizabeth McSheffrey has more.

The Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union and Nova Scotia Health Authority are reassuring front line hospital workers that if they require a new face mask during their shift, it will be provided to them.

That comes in the wake of concerns from some nurses over the NSHA’s new “one procedure mask per shift policy,” implemented earlier this week in a bid to conserve personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

READ MORE: 2nd death connected to coronavirus identified in Nova Scotia 

“If your mask becomes soiled or wet during your shift (including sweaty), unit managers will have access to additional masks for your use,” said NSHA spokesperson Carla Adams on Thursday.

“To be clear: we want you to change your mask if it is soiled.”

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At a virtual town hall meeting on Thursday morning, Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union (NSNU) president Janet Hazelton said a “significant number” of nurses feared the policy is unsafe and unhygienic.

“We’ve always been taught when you go in a room, you have gloves and a mask on, when you go out of the room, you take them off and throw them in the garbage,” she explained.

“I understand it’s not ideal but everybody’s trying to do whatever they can to protect our health care workers and our nurses during this pandemic.”

Halifax Transit driver tests positive for COVID-19
Halifax Transit driver tests positive for COVID-19

Hazelton urged patience from members, pointing out that surgeons often wear the same mask for eight straight hours during a procedure.

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She also asked them to use their professional judgment on when to ask for a new mask.

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Possible contamination is one circumstance in which a new mask should be requested, she suggested.

Adams said if a mask has reached “gross status,” that’s a good time to ask for a new one too.

The NSHA confirmed that in some hospitals, workers have been asked to store their masks in “labelled, single use paper bags” while they’re using the washroom, on break, or otherwise not required to wear one.

READ MORE: NSHA urges staff to stop taking face masks from its facilities

Earlier this week, the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) ordered anyone working in a hospital environment to wear a mask while in a public space or in contact with other staff. Along with those marching orders came the “one procedure mask per shift” policy.

These procedures mean that more people in hospitals are wearing masks than would normally have done before the pandemic, and the one mask per shift policy is helping to conserve the gear.

Production of non-medical masks ramping up in New Brunswick
Production of non-medical masks ramping up in New Brunswick

In an NSHA video released on Tuesday, CEO Brendan Carr assured that the organization has a”healthy stockpile and supply” for the time being, and promised to notify the public if it ever anticipates a shortage.

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“We don’t have a near-term issues with our PPE, but we know this is going to be a sustained surge, and we know that supply lines have been disrupted because of the global pandemic,” said Carr.

“We’re kind of planning for the worst and hoping for something better than that, and we’re confident that we’re going to do okay.”

READ MORE: NSHA warning of potential COVID-19 exposure on Halifax Transit buses

Asked if the “healthy stockpile” assessment is contingent on the one mask per shift rule, Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer, said the province takes several short and long-term projections into consideration.

“It all has to be based on what we have in our supplies, what we anticipate getting — whether it’s throughout federal procurement processes or whether some of the very creative work that’s happening here through our local businesses about retooling their industries to start producing some of these materials,” Strang said.

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

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

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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. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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