(The Canadian Press photo)

Public health agency weighs stronger COVID-19 protection for front-line workers

Guidelines lay out the precautions health-care workers should take when assessing and treating the new coronavirus

The Public Health Agency of Canada says it will consult with the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions on its next set of guidelines for protecting health-care workers against the novel coronavirus, but warned stricter protocols carry their own set of risks.

The interim guidelines the federal public health agency released this month lay out the precautions health-care workers should take when assessing and treating a patient possibly infected with the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, including what protective equipment should be used.

The nurses’ unions warned the national guidelines to protect nurses, doctors and other hospital staff from exposure to the highly contagious virus are less stringent than those in other jurisdictions, including provincial rules in Ontario.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, for example, calls for health-care workers to wear respirators when interacting with potential coronavirus patients to protect against possible airborne transmissions, but Canada’s national guidelines only call for looser surgical masks in most scenarios.

Dr. Howard Njoo, the deputy chief public health officer, says the agency will consider those concerns, but notes that being overly cautious could mean burning through limited supplies unnecessarily.

READ MORE: Canada’s 13th coronavirus case confirmed as husband of 12th patient

“We understand the nurses’ perspective,” said Njoo, who sits on the technical advisory committee that discussed the guidelines. “There’s more to it than just what they’re saying.”

Some infectious-disease specialists worry about the ”inappropriate use of personal protective equipment” for example, he said, which could needlessly use up the supply of respirators since the evidence so far indicates the virus is transmitted by larger droplets from coughs and sneezes, not by floating through the air.

Countries around the world have reported shortages of medical masks for personal and medical use alike as the virus spreads and demand surges.

The risk of contracting the virus in Canada is considered low, and the health system has so far been able to contain the cases imported from other countries.

So far, 16 cases have been confirmed in Canada — eight in Ontario, seven in British Columbia and one in Quebec.

Canada’s chief public-health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said provinces are working together to take stock of the necessary medical supplies in the event of an outbreak in Canada.

Njoo and Health Minister Patty Hajdu met representatives of the nurses union federation Tuesday to discuss their concerns, and the public-health agency agreed to set up another meeting next week to take their feedback.

Federation of Nurses Unions president Linda Silas said it’s important to get those guidelines right, because even though provinces can set out their own guidelines many will simply defer to the national recommendations, she said.

“We’re asking health-care employers to ignore the interim guidelines and follow the Ontario guidelines, which are much safer,” said Silas.

—With files from the Associated Press

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

‘We want to help’: As overdose deaths spike, beds lay empty at long-term Surrey rehab centre

John Volken Academy searching for ‘students’ to enlist in two-year residential treatment program

PHOTOS: B.C. Day long weekend on White Rock beach

Hundreds of families gathered at the beach Sunday

Seeds of Change Surrey to launch two new programs

United Way of the Lower Mainland donated $77,000

White Rock RCMP to host free bicycle registration clinic

Stolen registered bicycles are easier to return to proper owner if recovered

VIDEO: Otter pups learn to swim at B.C. wildlife rescue facility

Watch Critter Care’s Nathan Wagstaffe help seven young otters go for their first dip

Wildfire breaks out near Harrison Hot Springs

1.5 hectare fire is reportedly human caused

Police lay out details of mental health response in Abbotsford over long weekend

APD officers assist mental health team for three hours yesterday, man sent to hospital with injury

Michael Buble among 13 British Columbians to receive Order of B.C.

Ceremony will be delayed to 2021 due to COVID-19

U.S. border communities feel loss of Canadian tourists, shoppers and friends

Restrictions on non-essential travel across the Canada-U.S. border have been in place since March 2`

Rollout of COVID-19 Alert app faces criticism over accessibility

App requires users to have Apple or Android phones made in the last five years, and a relatively new operating system

Fraser Valley Bandits clinch playoff spot with win

Bandits down Niagara River Lions 70-57 on Sunday, improve to 3-2

Most Read