Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Gowns, masks and gloves are being used rapidly in the COVID-19 pandemic. (The Canadian Press)

B.C. prepares to use donated, ‘alternative’ COVID-19 protective gear

Rigorous testing done first, Health Minister Adrian Dix says

With international supplies of medical protective equipment in huge demand world-wide in the coronavirus pandemic, the B.C. health ministry is preparing to introduce stocks of donated and unconventional supplies for health care workers.

“I need to be clear that we’re approaching that point where we’ll need to introduce alternative PPE (personal protective equipment),” Health Minister Adrian Dix said in his daily COVID-19 update April 20. “Like other jurisdictions, we’re struggling to replace our traditional products in the context of all this global demand. But safe and effective alternatives exist. Use of alternative and equivalent PPE are on the horizon, likely within the next week.”

Dix emphasized that donated or alternative-sourced equipment is first checked against specifications of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Standards, a U.S. standard also used in Canada, and sent for lab testing if if there is any question about filtration or fluid resistance for masks, gowns and other equipment.

“We manually inspect the product for tears and irregularities,” Dix said. “For N-95 respirators, we test the seal and fit of the mask. In addition to that due diligence, we are committed to engaging with unions and stakeholders and health care workers before any alternative product is introduced into the system.”

RELATED: B.C. sorting medical equipment offers for COVID-19

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Conventional supplies have continued to arrive, including an Easter weekend shipment of more than 100,000 N-95 respirators, 51,000 face shields and 1.2 million gloves. The Alberta government also announced April 11 it was sharing its stockpile of goggles, masks, gowns and gloves with B.C., Ontario and Quebec, along with ventilators that assist people in intensive care with breathing failure.


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