As questions arise about the way surgical masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are used, distributed, and handled by BC healthcare workers dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said on Thursday that wearing one surgical mask along with other PPE for a “whole cohort” of patients is “absolutely safe.”
Henry made the comments during a press conference, while responding to questions about the way masks – particularly N95 masks – are currently being used in both acute and long-term care facilities.
“This is obviously something that has evolved and something that we have paid a lot of attention to, and I’ve had discussions … about where we’re going and why,” she said. “It is in times of need that you need to make these decisions, and you need to do it in a way that’s safe for everybody.”
Ans while she admitted that this view “is a change in the way we’ve thought about how we wear PPE,” Henry shared the reasoning behind this decision.
“One is to protect the healthcare workers of course, but it’s also how do we best protect our patients,” she said. “We have done a reorganization in how people are cared for in the acute care sector particularly, but also in long-term care homes – things like cohorting. These are all well-recognized infection prevention and control practices that allow us to spare the amount of PPE that people need.”
When patients are “scattered throughout a hospital or other facility … you have to change your PPE every time you go in and out of the rom between patients … and then you go to the next person and you have to put it back on again,” she said. “We know that every time we put on or take off our PPE, we’re likely to contaminate ourselves, so the rationale is for safety of the healthcare workers, and safety of the patients.”
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The other reason behind the change is to spare the amount of PPE available.
“A couple of weeks ago, the amount of PPE being used per patient was astronomical and we went through a huge amount of those respirators, and we talked about how there is a shortage – globally – around medical masks, and it’s important that we need to preserve those for our healthcare workers.”
If someone is wearing their mask and all their PPE while “dealing with the COVID-19 ward, then I can wear it for the entirety of my shift unless it gets splashed or dirty or damaged,” she stressed. “This is a well-recognized way of using PPE.”
Henry’s comments followed the announcement that six more people have died in BC as a result of coronavirus.
Henry also announced 55 new test-positive cases, bringing the number of provincial cases to 1,121. A total of 31 people in BC have now died from coronavirus.
Broken down by health region, Henry said there are 525 known cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, 386 in Fraser Health, 72 on Vancouver Island, 121 in Interior Health, and 17 in Northern Health.
Of the total cases, 149 are hospitalized and 68 are in critical care. A total of 641 people have fully recovered.