A group of Alberta physicians has written to the provincial government and started a petition about “grave concerns… about the safety and efficacy” of the disposable face masks they’re being provided during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group, abdocs4patients, wrote to Health Minister Tyler Shandro and the CEO of Alberta Health Services, Dr. Verna Yiu, in an open letter dated April 24. Dozens of physicians signed it. The group itself is comprised of about 150 doctors.
(Scroll down to read the letter in full).
They say the current supply of Vanch disposable medical face masks “are of poor quality, substandard, consistently malfunction, and do not provide adequate personal protection against a very capable viral pathogen.”
Concerns with how the masks fit over the bridge of the nose, irritation and smell were previously raised.
But the abdocs4patients group says the standard of masks physicians are being sent are “inapplicable to a medical protective mask and surgical mask.”
Normal medical masks used in the medical industry (YY / T0969-2013 or YYT0969-2013 or EN14683 II/IIR) offer “low level of protection,” the group says. They don’t effectively prevent pathogens from getting through, cannot protect from particles and bacterial viruses, or protect adequately from splash contamination, abdocs4patients says.
A spokesperson for Alberta’s Municipal Affairs ministry said AHS and the provincial operations centre is providing “Level 1 masks” to staff at long-term care facilities, supportive living facilities, pharmacists, first responders and family doctors.
Hospital staff are provided with Level 1 masks and N-95 masks “based on criteria published by AHS for use of N-95 masks and staff being fit tested,” press secretary Timothy Gerwing told Global News.
Level 1 masks are: Primed PM4-1211, PriMed 186771, “Vanch and other brands of Level 1 masks that are purchased.”
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AHS says all PPE that’s been purchased and provided is “approved for medical use and meets health-care standards,” and that “all PPE being provided to Alberta’s front-line health-care workers and physicians meets provincial and national infection prevention control standards.”
In an email to Global News, AHS spokesperson James Wood said “AHS and the government are coordinating allocation of carefully planned amounts of PPE across the province during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“All health-care workers in Alberta are required to wear procedure/surgical masks at all times when providing direct patient care or working in patient care areas or in any area where six-feet distance cannot be maintained.
“We now have processes in place to ensure PPE is accessible to all community physicians, including primary care physicians and specialists.
“Additional PPE, including N95 respirators, are also to be used for certain procedures according to AHS PPE guidelines as per the point of care risk assessments conducted by health-care workers. The majority of these procedures take place in an acute care environment,” AHS said.
The doctors’ group says there is an important distinction between “medical face masks” and “medical protective masks” or “surgical masks.”
“We have two sets of masks,” said Dr. John Julyan-Gudgeon, a family doctor and a spokesperson for abdocs4patients, on the Ryan Jespersen Show Friday.
“We have wanted the masks that are being produced to perform at a certain standard level that is deemed required for taking care of patients on the front line with both particulate filtration capacities and splash protection. And then we’re getting these masks that are not providing that protection.”
“I’m getting reports from my colleagues of these things off-gassing toxic fumes that are making my colleagues — both nurses, front-line health-care workers and doctors — making them nauseous, giving them headaches after they have to wear these for eight hours… skin rashes and hearing that the ear pieces are falling off.
“That might be processing issues. And it seems to us, from the feedback we’ve been getting from the government, that that is the part that they’re willing to address. They mentioned that they’re willing to unpackage these things, air them out, make them more aesthetically pleasing.”
“Not until we started investigating further that we realized that there were performance and production standards already in place in the industry, for things like particulate filtration and glass protection, that these masks have not been actually designed or accredited to perform,” Julyan-Gudgeon explained.
The group has also filed a request under the Access to Information Act to get more details on the quality of PPE being provided to physicians. It has also requested more details on the types of PPE products the Alberta government sent to other provinces.
Abdocs4patients said it is also using a toxicology firm to investigate the effectiveness of the PPE.
“My colleagues… they’re feeling very unconfident about this. They’re feeling that they are themselves at risk and their families are at risk,” Julyan-Gudgeon said.
“When you’re talking about a front-line health-care worker, their job is to get in there with the patient inside that safe distance, examine them, take care of them… When you have masks that aren’t providing the protection, not only are the health-care workers at risk, but so are the patients.
“This is like asking firefighters to run into a fire and saying, ‘You know what? We’re going to give you a damp cloth to put over your face instead of a respirator and we’re going to say that that’s adequate protection.'”