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

OTTAWA — 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.

“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, 14 cases have been confirmed in Canada, with a 15th presumptive case discovered 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.

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

Just Posted

Alberta announces 98 new cases of COVID-19

City of Red Deer has no COVID-19-related deaths

The Red Deer Public Market will not open next month

It’s being postponed indefinitely to reduce public gatherings

Women’s Fun Run is ‘re-imagined’ for May 9

Families can register for free and do any activity at home

WATCH: Red Deer emergency call centre hours change starting next week

Hours at the City of Red Deer’s COVID-19 emergency call centre will… Continue reading

Alberta Health Services provides COVID-19 prevention tips

Alberta Health Services has a number of recommendations for people amid the… Continue reading

Alberta government website has latest COVID-19 statistics

Red Deer Advocate readers can stay up to date on the COVID-19… Continue reading

David Marsden: Hospital parking should always be free

If you need to visit a patient at a hospital or other… Continue reading

British cancelled, Masters to November in major rescheduling

British cancelled, Masters to November in major rescheduling

NFL going with virtual format for upcoming draft

NFL going with virtual format for upcoming draft

NHL playoff scenarios run the gamut of where, when and how

NHL playoff scenarios run the gamut of where, when and how

Leafs’ Matthews, Marner, Penguins’ Marleau relive start of ageless friendship

Leafs’ Matthews, Marner, Penguins’ Marleau relive start of ageless friendship

Actress-activist Shirley Douglas, daughter of medicare’s Tommy Douglas, dies

Actress-activist Shirley Douglas, daughter of medicare’s Tommy Douglas, dies

Most Read