Coronavirus: Some nurses still don’t have proper PPE

OTTAWA – When news of the first cases of COVID-19 began to emerge in Canada in early 2020, Linda Silas was one of the first to sound the alarm about the lack of proper personal protective equipment for health workers.

As early indications showed the virus was spreading through droplets that landed on surfaces, Silas, president of the Canadian Nurses Federation, urged health authorities to learn from the 2003 SARS outbreak. and to take the highest level of precaution.

Now she knows she was right – the virus is airborne – but she is still desperately asking for more protective equipment for nurses two years later.

Regional unions across the country are reporting that nurses who have requested fit-tested respirators still cannot get them in some cases, despite the Omicron variant being far more transmissible than previous variants.

The shortage of healthy nurses to deal with the massive surge of the Omicron variant has meant that hospitals and other healthcare facilities have deployed nurses with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and some still go unseen. come up with appropriate masks, she said.

“These vulnerable patients could have COVID-positive staff caring for them, and without the proper PPE, that’s just plain dangerous,” she said.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, describes the spread of COVID-19 as a cloud of smoke coming from someone’s mouth and nose. She and other doctors have suggested the public use more effective masks to protect themselves.

Silas said often in places such as vaccination clinics, members of the public seem better equipped with the proper protective gear than health care workers.

“It’s a hodgepodge, and it’s a fight,” Silas said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “In long-term care it’s a real struggle, in community care it’s a real struggle and in acute care it depends on where you work.”

Different hospitals seem to take different approaches when it comes to providing PPE to nurses, which doesn’t make sense, she said, “because science is science.”

Canada’s supply chain is likely to blame, said University of Windsor professor Anne Snowdon, a registered nurse who studies health systems and supply chains.

“The problem has always been the supply chain. The result of our supply chain limitations is not being able to access these protective products that are so important in reducing the risk of transmission of this virus to our workforce- work, and also for our patients,” Snowdon said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

The scarcity of PPE supplies was perhaps more understandable at the start of the pandemic, but critics like Silas wonder how Canada could still find itself in a similar predicament in many parts of the healthcare system.

The answer, Snowdon said, is that the infrastructure was so bad to begin with.

“We build the bridges we ride on,” she said.

In other sectors, such as construction, essential workers would not be in the same situation, Silas said, because they would have the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions.

But health workers cannot do the same without the ethical guilt of abandoning patients. It’s the same guilt that drives nurses to work 16-24 hours or take on large patient loads, she said.

“It is this ethical guilt that weighs on health care personnel.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 14, 2022.

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