Canada looking to disinfect used masks; Tam asks they not be thrown away
‘It is one of the most important and I think worthwhile lines of pursuit for PPE right now’
By Mia Rabson
OTTAWA — Canadian hospitals should not throw out used face masks and other protective equipment because public health officials are investigating whether it will be possible to disinfect and reuse them, Canada’s public health chief said Sunday.
In her daily briefing to Canadians, Dr. Theresa Tam also said chief medical officers are working on recommendations to the general public for the best uses of homemade face masks.
Tam continues to warn Canadians that the best defence against COVID-19 is for people to stay home as much as possible, wash their hands frequently with soap and keep a two-metre distance from other people when you need to go out for essentials like food or medication.
While she has not yet suggested people should wear non-medical face masks when they go out, she said Sunday her office is working on generating advice for what people should do if they choose to wear a homemade mask, including what materials are best to use.
However, Tam still stressed homemade masks are to keep people who may have the virus from spreading it to others and do little to protect people from getting the virus. The medical masks that can offer protection must be reserved for medical staff, Tam said.
For front-line health care workers, having access to N-95 respirator masks is critical. Thousands of Italian and Spanish health professionals contracted COVID-19 while treating patients and unable to get access to proper protective equipment. In Italy, more than 50 doctors died of COVID-19.
In Canada, the number of infected health workers is growing, with 274 known cases in Ontario health workers alone. Tam said it’s important to note not all of the health workers who are sick contracted the illness while at work, but said “every stop has been pulled out” to get the critical supplies to the workers who need them.
That now includes not just increasing domestic production and finding ways to get more imports in a competitive global environment, but also finding a way to reuse the equipment the country already has. She said the science to decontaminate equipment meant for single-use only is being done and in the meantime she is directing provinces and territories not to throw out the equipment, so when the science is ready it can be applied immediately.
“It is one of the most important and I think worthwhile lines of pursuit for PPE right now,” Tam said.