British Columbia

'Our wicked problem': B.C. seeks more personal protective equipment as COVID-19 cases mount

The province is looking at alternative supplies and ways of more efficiently using personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks and gowns, in order to best protect health-care workers during the pandemic.

Protection of health-care workers of paramount importance in this outbreak, says Dr. Bonnie Henry

Registered nurse Keene Roadman is shown garbed in personal protective equipment during a training class at the Rush University Medical Center in 2014. (Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press)

British Columbia is strategizing ways to secure more personal protective equipment (PPE) — items such as gowns, gloves, and masks — in order to protect its health-care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s provincial health officer, says these protective supplies are being used at a dramatically higher rate than predicted.

According to the latest numbers announced Wednesday, there are a total of 659 cases in the province. A total of 64 COVID-19 patients are being treated in hospital, including 26 in intensive care. Many of the outbreak clusters in the province have been at long-term care homes. 

"It's a challenge that we have nine long-term-care facility outbreaks where additional protections are needed in those facilities," Henry said at her daily presser Wednesday. "And then we now have increasing numbers of people in hospital, and that is going through way more personal protective equipment than we expected."

Paramedics wearing full body protective equipment clean a stretcher after responding to a call. Nurses' and doctors' associations have warned of a threat of a PPE shortage. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Earlier this week, the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO) and Ontario Medical Association (OMA) urged its provincial government to address shortages of protective equipment.

Henry said the protection of health-care workers is of paramount importance.

"It's a reflection of how challenging it is for health-care workers who feel very vulnerable as we are working in these situations, worrying about getting sick ourselves, worrying about passing it on to our families ... but also being able to care for people effectively," Henry said. 

"That's our wicked problem."

She says there are a few things the province is doing to address the gap.

It is putting in place measures to try to use supplies more effectively and efficiently — like utilizing different patient management strategies so medical staff don't have to change their equipment as often. New shipments are on order, and the province is also looking at alternative suppliers.

"We are on a tenuous level right now but we do have a plan for that," she said.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

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