N.S. health authority, IWK ask staff to wear masks while dealing with patients

The Nova Scotia Health Authority and IWK Heath Centre are asking staff to wear masks whenever they're in public spaces inside a hospital or coming in contact with patients and other staff.

Dr. Brendan Carr, the NSHA president and CEO, informed health authority staff of the new policy in a video posted online on Tuesday.

Carr said the decision is based on evolving information that shows COVID-19 can be spread by people with the virus even before they show symptoms or if they are asymptomatic.

"We think that this will offer some protection both to the individual and can protect other people if we happen to have COVID and are unaware of that," he said.

The new policy comes on the same day Nova Scotia announced its first death related to COVID-19.

Staff will be given a procedure mask when they arrive for work that they are to use throughout their shift or until it becomes soiled.

Save medical-grade masks for health-care workers

On Monday, chief medical officers of health across the country said wearing masks when members of the public are in areas where it's difficult to physically distance, such as public transit and grocery stores, could help reduce spread of the illness.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, cautioned on Monday that wearing a mask is not a substitute for handwashing, self-isolation and physical distancing.

Strang also warned that members of the public should only be using "non-medical grade" and homemade masks.

"It's critically important that the medical supply of masks and other personal protective equipment is maintained for the health-care system and for other essential workers."

N.S. still waiting for delivery of supplies

In Carr's video, he said the health authority established a team to look at best practices and conservation measures for the use of personal protective equipment, or PPE, as well as tracking access to masks, gloves and gowns.

"The good news is, we actually are seeing some success with all of those efforts," he said.

"As of today, we have a healthy stockpile in supply."

Carr said there aren't any "near-team issues with our PPE," but he said the health authority knows the virus will present a sustained surge and global supply chains have been interrupted.

Premier Stephen McNeil said at a briefing Tuesday that the province has a month's supply of N95 masks and other PPE, even with the new protocols for hospital staff. The province is waiting for an order that would extend that supply into mid-May or the beginning of June, he said.

Nova Scotia continues to wait for a bulk order of supplies placed through the national procurement process. McNeil said on Monday that "portions" of the order have been filled, although further detail has not ben provided. Along with PPE, the province has also ordered 140 ventilators.

McNeil's office confirmed Tuesday that he's also reached out to contacts in China and is hoping a shipment of surgical masks will arrive in the next week or so.

Stanfield's to make up to 130,000 gowns a week

Carr's message to staff came on the same day the health authority announced a contract with Stanfield's Limited of Truro, N.S., to produce 30,000 protective gowns each week for 16 weeks for NSHA and IWK Health Centre staff.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

In a news conference Tuesday, Jon Stanfield, the company's president, said the contract is worth $4.3 million with an option to be extended. The first batch of gowns is expected to be ready late next week.

Stanfield's is one of the companies the federal government has tapped to help with the effort to produce more supplies within the country. The company signed a $24-million contract with Ottawa to produce 100,000 gowns each week from May to October.

That adds up to 130,000 gowns per week starting next month.

Stanfield said more than 70 workers are being recalled by the company to do the work. A call is out for more workers in hopes of doubling production and adding a second shift.

A weekend shift and overnight shift is also a possibility as long as the company can get enough people and get them trained, he said. Sewers will earn $17 an hour with the ability to earn bonuses based on production targets.

All public health precautions are being taken, he said, including wiping down machines between shifts and screening employees each day they come to the factory by taking temperatures and asking a series of questions. The plant is closed to the public.

The need to maintain manufacturing

The contracts come at a time when retail orders have basically hit zero, said Stanfield. They provide "a very nice bridge" as the company, like many others, waits to see what happens with the economy.

Stanfield said the factory is normally busy, but the output for the gowns would be higher and more intense than what is usual.

The fabric for the gowns has been sourced from another Truro-based company and Stanfield said the business is in talks with manufacturing partners in other provinces about getting help to meet demand. He said more orders could be filled if the workforce is available.

'Can't be turned off'

The unique situation the pandemic has created and the global demand for supplies is an argument in favour of maintaining some level of manufacturing at all times within the country, said Stanfield.

"We have to make sure in the future, as a result of what's happened here, that we have a level of domestic supply and readiness right across the country. And really that can't be turned off after this"

Companies need to maintain some level of available output so if the dial needs to be turned up again in the future, it can happen quickly, he said.

Carr said information about supply availability is being shared on a daily basis with local leadership and he promised staff they would be kept in the loop.

"If ever we got to a point where we are anticipating that we are not going to have enough PPE, my commitment to you is that we will share that with you."

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