Manitoba has received 'a fraction' of protective equipment order from feds as province's supplies dwindle

Chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa said the province's current supplies of N95 masks, gloves and gowns could be used up in the next week or two — but the province is expecting more to arrive soon.

Chief nursing officer says current supplies of N95 masks, gloves, gowns could be gone in next week or 2

Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Manitoba Shared Health, says production and distribution timelines for personal protective equipment have been 'significantly disrupted' in recent weeks because of changes to the national supply. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

As health-care workers risk running out of some of the supplies needed to protect them against COVID-19, one of Manitoba's top health officials says the province is still waiting on a massive order of equipment from the federal government to be negotiated.

"From the federal government … we had ordered millions of supplies. We were the first one to put our supply order in, and we have received a fraction of that — more like a few hundred thousand dollars' worth," Manitoba Shared Health chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa said at a news conference Wednesday.

"We know the supplies are here [in Canada]. It's just a matter of where it's being distributed, and I think it's just important for us to let the federal government know.

"And I know the minister and government are helping us with that, to make sure that we get what we need during this time."

Siragusa said the province's current supplies of N95 masks, gloves and gowns could be used up in the next week or two — but the province is expecting more to arrive soon.

"We think it will be a very short-term situation, but that's what we're facing right now," she said.

Hospitals across the province will begin to save 'gently used' N95 masks instead of throwing them out as part of a backup plan in case the supply of the protective equipment becomes limited. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Meanwhile, current stocks of face shields, surgical and procedure masks and hand sanitizer should last for weeks to months, she said.

Now, Siragusa said changes like temporarily scaling back a universal personal protective equipment (PPE) protocol introduced last week are on the table as Manitoba waits for its stocks to be replenished.

That protocol, which was rolled out in some parts of the province last week and was expected to be implemented across Manitoba sometime next week, allowed all hospital staff who interact with patients to access a surgical mask, gown and gloves at all times.

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"It is really dynamic, so sometimes in this marathon that we're in, we are going to have to have periods where we have to make some changes temporarily, until maybe we replenish a stock, and then go back," Siragusa said.

"It's being responsive to the changes and the challenges that are coming to us."

Siragusa said the universal PPE protocol also helps preserve the province's stocks of equipment, because it involves workers wearing the gear for extended periods when appropriate.

She said she expects that changes to service delivery, if there are any, will be announced on Thursday.

Manitoba health officials have already announced the province will start saving "gently used" N95 masks — which could possibly be sterilized and reused — instead of throwing them out as part of a backup plan, in case the supply of the protective equipment becomes limited.

3M disruptions affect local supply

Siragusa said production and distribution timelines have also been "significantly disrupted" over the past few weeks because of changes to the national supply of protective gear.

Disruptions to "a pretty significant shipment" of N95 masks from medical device manufacturer 3M, which faced pressure from the White House last week to stop exporting the masks outside the U.S., played a role in the shortage Manitoba is facing, she said.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a virtual meeting with Canada's premiers about the need for critical medical supplies and the global battle to secure the life-saving equipment.

A Liberal source speaking on background told CBC News that some premiers offered to forgo their expected deliveries of personal protective equipment to divert the supplies to provinces with a greater need. 

On Monday, Premier Brian Pallister said Manitoba did not agree to send protective gear to other provinces.

Siragusa said Manitoba has expanded its list of protective gear suppliers by more than 10 times to make sure the province has what it needs to slow the spread of COVID-19 among health-care workers.

"We have gone from our normal state, where we manage with 60 vendors, to now working with well over 600," she said. "It's a mammoth undertaking around the clock to ensure that the continued shipment of supplies is coming into Manitoba."

The province is still working on contingency plans to make sure it has the equipment it needs, Siragusa said.

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With files from Kathleen Harris


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