PEI

Health PEI makes masks mandatory for front-line staff

The province is now asking all Health PEI staff to wear medical masks when in direct contact with patients and when they are unable to physically distance at least two metres.

Province expects staff will each use an average of 4 masks per 12-hour shift

Health PEI staff including doctors, nurses and anyone with direct patient contact will now be required to wear medical masks where physical distancing is not possible. (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters)

The province is now asking all Health PEI staff to wear medical masks when in direct contact with patients and when they are unable to physically distance at least two metres.

The COVID-19 joint response team of the Chief Public Health Office (CPHO) sent out a memo Wednesday to all Health PEI staff, directing them to wear masks.

"This change in practice is reflective of the growing movement in North America and around the world to implement greater use of masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19," the province said in an email to CBC News. 

"While the risk in P.E.I. is unchanged since last week and remains low due to a lack of community spread of the virus here, the use of masks in patient care settings when physical distancing cannot be maintained is now needed in light of evolving evidence and new recommendations from CPHO. Masks do not need to be worn in areas where a physical barrier, such as Plexiglas, is used."

The email noted the policy change is not directly related to the new COVID cluster that emerged on P.E.I. last weekend, but rather evolving guidance on mask use.

Does P.E.I. have enough masks?

The union representing nurses on P.E.I. said it has contacted Health PEI about how many masks it has now and how long its provincial stockpile will last. 

P.E.I. Nurses' Union president Mona O'Shea says she'd like to know how many masks the province has in its stockpile. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC)

"If all employees are required to wear a mask, then there's going to be a lot of employees in Health PEI that are going to be required to wear that," said P.E.I. Nurses' Union president Mona O'Shea. 

The memo said it expects staff member will each use an average of four masks per 12-hour shift, so O'Shea said "you could go through a lot of surgical masks."

CBC News contacted Health PEI, which replied by email that the province has "approximately eight to nine weeks' worth of supply, based on the estimated usage under the new guidelines (approximately 100,000 per week). We also do have orders for a consistent supply and are confident in our mask supply under the new guidelines."

Call to require masks for visitors

O'Shea said nurses understand the need to wear masks. However, she said some nurses would also like to see mask-wearing mandatory for visitors to health-care facilities.

She noted that if four patients in a shared room each have three visitors, that could mean 12 people in a small ward where physical distancing is not possible.

The memo said the Chief Public Health Office has already strongly recommended non-medical mask use by the public, and is encouraging patients and visitors to wear their own non-medical masks when they are not able to keep a distance of two metres. 

Staff who do not provide direct patient care are not mandated to wear masks, but "may choose to wear non-medical or cloth masks in health-care facilities if they see fit," the memo said, adding those staff are responsible for procuring their own masks. 

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Jessica Doria-Brown

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