Ottawa

Kingston General Hospital bans homemade masks for staff

A medical resident at Kingston General Hospital is worried about a policy banning homemade masks, which residents started wearing in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the supply of hospital-grade protective gear.

Some residents want cloth masks to curb asymptomatic COVID-19 spread

A resident at Kingston General Hospital says staff were told not to wear homemade masks that had been donated by members of the community. (Submitted by Shelley Worley)

A medical resident at Kingston General Hospital is worried about a policy banning homemade masks, which residents started wearing in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the supply of hospital-grade protective gear.

A medical resident said resident physicians were told last week to stop wearing homemade masks donated by the community.

"We understand homemade masks really don't offer all that much protection to the wearer. This is about the patients that we're trying to protect," the resident said.

CBC News is protecting the identity of the resident because they fear losing their job.

Residents opted for the homemade masks in part to conserve the hospital-grade masks, or personal protective equipment (PPE), for the riskiest situations.

In an emailed statement, the Kingston General Hospital said masks are being used in key areas of the hospital that receive vulnerable patients, but homemade masks are not permitted in other areas where masks aren't being used.

"Homemade, fabric masks are not suitable for clinical staff, as they don't provide the level of protection needed for staff providing direct patient care," said the statement, attributed to Dr. Gerald Evans,  the medical director of infection prevention and control at the Kingston Health Sciences Centre.

There are 47 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Kingston region.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam speaks about how Canadians can safely use homemade masks or scarves, the evolution of thinking around masks and whether they actually help keep people safe. 1:59

Spread without symptoms

One of the resident's main concerns was that COVID-19 can spread when someone doesn't present outward symptoms.

The resident said staff see patients that may be immunocompromised and can't follow physical distancing guidelines.

"We have to examine patients. We have to get close. We have to get close to each other as well," the resident said. 

"We feel that if we could be permitted a face mask, we could decrease the risk of asymptomatic spread to each other and, more importantly, to our patients."

The statement from the hospital said it is following ministry guidelines on the sterilization and reprocessing of N95 masks.

Evans said the the approach is guided by infection control expertise, the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community and the global supply of PPE.

"Our aim is to have PPE available, when we need it and where we need it," Evans said. 

Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said a homemade mask could serve a similar function as coughing into your sleeve, shielding people around you from the spread of droplets containing the virus. However, Tam said their effectiveness has not been proven.

N95, medical and cloth masks (CBC)

About the Author

Matthew Kupfer

CBC Reporter

Matthew Kupfer has been a reporter and producer at CBC News since 2012. He can be reached at matthew.kupfer@cbc.ca and on Twitter @matthewkupfer

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