British Columbia

Senior care homes in B.C. struggle to buy face masks amid coronavirus fears

Senior care homes in British Columbia are closely monitoring the coronavirus outbreak as some facilities struggle to buy supplies of masks, gloves and sanitizer.

Facilities have stockpiles of supplies, as masks and sanitizers are snatched up in stores

Supplies like face masks and hand sanitizer are harder to find for care homes. One facility was told the next delivery date of masks isn't until June. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Senior care homes in British Columbia are closely monitoring the coronavirus outbreak as some facilities struggle to buy supplies of masks, gloves and sanitizer. 

B.C. confirmed the ninth case of COVID-19 on Tuesday, a man in his 50s who recently returned from Iran. Over the weekend, shelves were bare in several grocery stores as customers quickly snapped up supplies over fears of a possible pandemic in the province. 

"We have been made aware that organizations are starting to see difficulties ordering basic supplies,," said Jennifer Lyle, CEO of the non-profit SafeCare B.C. which represents long-term care workers. 

A survey of SafeCare B.C.'s members a few weeks ago found that more than half of respondents were having trouble ordering supplies. Of those, 88 per cent were having issues finding surgical masks. 

"I was chatting with one care provider yesterday. They were putting in an order for surgical masks and they were looking at a delivery date of June," Lyle told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition

One brand of masks was nearly sold out at Canadian Tire in Vancouver on Monday, though other brands were still available. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Don't panic buy

Other kinds of face masks, gloves, disposable gowns and hand sanitizer also topped the list of in-demand items, the survey found. 

Jean Slick, a professor at Royal Roads University in disaster and emergency management, cautioned against fear-driven stockpiling.

"We always want people to be prepared for emergencies but we also need to take measured action in doing that," she said. 

"But avoid going out and doing this in a panic."

Empty shelves at the Costco location in downtown Vancouver on Sunday, with no loaves of bread in sight. ( Franny Karlinsky/CBC)

It's a good idea to keep a two-week supply of non-perishable foods at home, she said, but that doesn't mean running out to the grocery store in a flurry of fear.

"When we see a picture of empty shelves ... that can feed a narrative and create a feeling of risk," she  told Gregor Craigie, the host of CBC's host of On The Island.

"But it's not necessary to panic at this stage."

Health officials have not urged British Columbias to stock up on face masks, gloves or other medical supplies. 

At the care homes, Lyle said she hasn't heard any reports of care homes running out of supplies yet.

Lyle said she hasn't heard any reports of care homes running out of supplies yet, though. 

"Just as a general practice, care homes typically have what we refer to as pandemic stockpiles," she said. 

"But we're actively monitoring this and we're working with the Ministry of Health to identify strategies around getting in front of the issue."

Care home outbreak in Washington

Across the border in the U.S., a coronavirus outbreak in a long-term care facility in King County, Washington state  is one of the reasons the county declared a state of emergency over the weekend. 

People living in care homes can be particularly vulnerable to viruses and infections, Lyle said, and B.C. facilities have several protocols in place to prevent the spread of illnesses — whether it's coronavirus or the common cold.

"The conversations that we're having right now are really with an eye toward prevention," she said. 

Hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer stations are set up throughout the homes, including at entrances where guests come in. Signs are posted warning guests not to visit if they are feeling unwell and staff are told to stay home if they are sick. 

"All those sorts of pieces that need to be in place are generally in place right now anyways because we are in the height of flu season," she said. 

Listen to the audio below to learn more:

With files from The Early Edition and On The Island

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