Have masks and gloves to spare? New website will get them into the hands of health-care workers

Marie-Michèle Plante unloads boxes of disposable gloves and N95 masks from her trunk and drops them onto the pavement in front of Notre-Dame Hospital in Montreal.

The nurse, on a break from her work in Quebec's far north, scrounged up the supplies from people and places in her community: a nearby dépanneur, friends who work in construction — even her tattoo artist.

"It's to help my colleagues who are on the front lines," she said. "I know that in some places they don't even have protective gloves anymore."

There's a looming shortage of personal protective equipment in Quebec, where as of Friday, 61 people have died and 6,101 have tested positive for COVID-19.

Premier François Legault said Friday Quebec only has eight days' worth of essential gear like gloves, gowns and masks, which are being used by the hundreds of thousands every day.

Give Protection (in French, Donnez la protection) has stepped in to try and partially fill that void, by helping track down equipment sitting unused in other sectors, by dentists, laboratories and construction companies.

Right now, 39 locations are listed as being in need, from the Hôpital de Sept-Îles on Quebec's North Shore, to the CLSC de Salaberry-de-Valleyfield in southwestern Quebec. Not surprisingly, most of the needs right now are clustered in and around Montreal, the epicentre of COVID-19 in Quebec.

Matchmaking the haves and have-nots

The initiative was launched March 29 by Kara Sheppard-Jones, whose partner is an internal medicine resident at the Université de Montréal. It was inspired by similar PPE drives in British Columbia and the United States.

Sheppard-Jones said an early supporter of the drive was Montreal dentist Yux Mei, who was looking to donate thousands of surgical masks from his three clinics.

"The response has been great since the beginning," Sheppard-Jones said. "We've been able to donate about 10,000 surgical masks and quite a few gloves."

Those who have items to donate can go to the group's website and fill out a form describing what they have to give. The site doesn't take DIY or homemade items, but it does accept open boxes.

The site is also set up to field requests from facilities or medical professionals who need supplies. Their information remains confidential, but their institution is added to an online map.

Give Protection's volunteers then match up the donations with those who need the supplies. The volunteers also sometimes pick up and drop off the goods.

"Our goal is to make sure the highest-priority hospitals daily get what they've asked for," said Sheppard-Jones.

Supplies must be carefully inspected

One clinic that is benefiting from the service is the Queen Elizabeth Health Complex, a super-clinic in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

Dr. Mark Roper says while the clinic isn't specifically designated to handle COVID-19 cases, he estimates five to 10 per cent of their patients are COVID-positive.

"We're already getting some masks, and we're very appreciative," said Roper.

The doctor said they carefully inspect any donated gear to make sure it meets safety standards, but if it's coming from a dental clinic, it should be as good as what they normally use.

'They're missing the essentials'

Back at Notre-Dame Hospital, Valérie Wax, a volunteer for Give Protection, waits outside to receive the supplies Plante has put together.

Earlier, Wax delivered about 50 masks in a GAP Kids bag to one of the hospital's physicians.

Wax gets out of her vehicle and starts loading the precious cargo into her hatchback. Some of the N95 masks will be going to Verdun Hospital, which is dealing with an COVID-19 outbreak.

Simon Nakonechny/CBC

Wax says she's doing the deliveries to be a good citizen and to show solidarity with those in the medical profession.

"What's crazy is they're missing the essentials," she said, "So let's do our best, as quickly as possible, to help everyone."