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Southwestern Ontario hospitals could run out of surgical face masks in 5 days, officials warn

As the province braces for a spike in COVID-19 cases, Southwestern Ontario is days away from running out of desperately needed masks that protect health care workers from the spread of the deadly virus, CBC News has learned.

500,000 masks have been ordered but are being held at Chinese customs, Ontario Nurses Association says

Southwestern Ontario could run out of some protective masks wthin days, according to information obtained by CBC News. (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters)

As the province braces for a spike in COVID-19 cases, Southwestern Ontario is days away from running out of desperately needed masks that protect health care workers from the spread of the deadly virus, CBC News has learned. 

For the 20 hospitals in the region that stretches from Windsor to Woodstock and is supplied by Healthcare Materials Management Services (HMMS), which buys supplies for the hospitals, the region will run out of surgical masks with face shields in five days, the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) has told its members. 

Earlier this week, workers at the London Health Sciences Centre were told to wear surgical masks at all times while in the hospital, but were also told they'd only get two masks per shift, unless the masks got soiled. 

In a letter to nurses sent by ONA and obtained by CBC News, the situation with N95 respirators, which protect against small particles and are worn during surgery and around patients suspected of or diagnosed with having COVID-19, is even more dire. 

There is just a seven-day supply of N95 1870 masks, an 11-day supply of N95 8210 masks and just over a months supply of N95 1860 masks. 

More masks have been ordered by HMMS, but 500,000 of them are being held at Chinese customs and another 700,000 masks have been sourced but they've yet to be produced and it's unknown if an American-made component in those masks will be restricted for sale in the United States, according to ONA. 

Some nurses at the London Health Sciences Centre have been refusing to work without the masks. 

An N95 respiration masks. (Nicholas Pfosi/Reuters)

CBC News has reached out repeatedly to the London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph's Health Care, which have refused interviews about the supply of personal protection equipment. Officials say they will release a statement Friday afternoon. 

Yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said 11-million face masks have arrived in Canada in recent days and are being distributed across the country. It's unknown if HMMS will get some of those masks. 

There is no domestic production of the N95 masks, forcing Canda to buy them on the international market to meet short-term demand.

Health care workers around the country say they have been rationing the protective masks while they wait for stocks to be replenished.

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