(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

COVID-19: Victoria hopes to provide financial relief through property taxes, utility bills

A number of city projects could be deferred in light of pandemic

Housing challenges in Canada complicate efforts to fight COVID-19

Five per cent of all households deemed ‘not suitable’ while other dwellers face other challenges

Swan Lake south wharf demolition complete, area remains off-limits

Sanctuary staff working to ‘re-naturalize’ the south end of the lake

New #yyjegghunt2020 joins the ranks of fun, social distancing activities in Greater Victoria

With hearts and lights illuminating windows and doorways across Greater Victoria as… Continue reading

Victoria Literacy Connection offers free e-reading club for kids

Kids with Grade 2-5 reading levels can join the club

Mental Health: Planning for a crisis

Crisis planning lays out a blueprint in case hard times hit

Revenue dip needed to qualify for wage subsidy drops to 15% in March: Trudeau

Wage subsidy would over 75% of each employee’s salary for qualifying businesses

B.C. closes all provincial parks for COVID-19 protection

Easter weekend approaches, camping already closed

Air Canada says it will apply for wage subsidy to rehire workers after cutting 16,500 jobs

Air Canada said March revenues fell by more than 30 per cent year over year

Canadians urged to include pets in their COVID-19 emergency plans

That includes plans about who will care for them if the owner is hospitalized

COVID-19: Don’t get away for Easter weekend, Dr. Bonnie Henry warns

John Horgan, Adrian Dix call 130 faith leaders as holidays approach

COVID-19 world update: Joy in Wuhan as lockdown lifted; Pope denounces profiteers

Comprehensive update of coronavirus news items from around the world

COVID-19: Trudeau says 30K ventilators on the way; 3.6M Canadians claim benefits

Canada has seen more than 17,000 cases and at least 345 deaths due to COVID-19

Comox spring training cancelled for Snowbirds next month

The team announced that due to ongoing travel restrictions they will not be training in the Valley

Most Read