Manitoba looking for locally made solution to N95 mask shortage
Province put call out to local businesses to produce new Winnipeg-designed masks for health-care workers
A Winnipeg medical team has designed a new mask for health-care workers that could help replace the N95 masks Manitoba is running out of amid the COVID-19 pandemic — but the province still needs to find someone to make them.
"Last week was particularly challenging, and a bit of a wake-up call, that we cannot rely on our typical processes and our usual practices," said Manitoba Shared Health chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa at a news conference Saturday afternoon.
The new mask prototype was designed by a team of medical experts at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre led by plastic surgeon Dr. Christian Petropolis.
The announcement about the new mask design came four days after Siragusa said the province was a week or two away from using up the rest of its N95 masks and some other personal protective equipment (PPE).
Manitoba is seeking submissions from local manufacturers that would be able to start making the new masks as soon as possible.
The province said it will sign purchase orders totalling up to $15 million to pre-order the masks, and may supply some of these funds in advance to supplement start-up costs.
WATCH | Lanette Siragusa says province is taking steps to address PPE shortage:
Petropolis said the mask is reusable and as effective as commercially produced N95 masks. It has a silicone base and uses an N95 — or higher —grade filter.
"The advantage of this design is its simplicity and flexibility. The small disk filter uses considerably less N95 material, the main component which has led to a worldwide mask shortage," said Petropolis, who is also the program training director for plastic surgery at the University of Manitoba.
The province expanded its efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 among its health-care workers even further on Saturday, announcing that health-care workers who show respiratory symptoms can now go directly to test sites, show their ID and immediately be swabbed for COVID-19.
Siragusa said as the province keeps ramping up its efforts to fight COVID-19, she expects the need for volunteers will grow. She said Manitoba will soon be reaching out to volunteer organizations to find people who can help.
Total cases now at 243
Health officials also announced 13 new cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba on Saturday, bringing the province's total to 243.
Eight people are hospitalized, five of whom are in intensive care units.
Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said as of Saturday, 96 people have recovered from the disease caused by the new coronavirus and four people have died.
That brings the province's number of active COVID-19 cases to 143.
Roussin said he doesn't believe any of the new cases are health-care workers, but he said investigations into those cases are still ongoing.
WATCH | Dr. Brent Roussin says to avoid gatherings as much as possible right now:
He discouraged people from getting together in person right now, even if they stay the recommended two metres apart.
"I don't think any large gatherings, even with trying to maintain an appropriate distance, is what we're looking for now," Roussin said.
"We're just in this vital aspect of our curve right now … the best thing we can do is just try to minimize contact with others."
On Friday, the province's Cadham lab did 175 tests for COVID-19, bringing the total number of tests done to 16,383.