Nurses need more protection as COVID-19 hospital outbreaks grow, union says

The Manitoba Nurses Union is urging officials to give more health-care workers access to N95 masks and to boost testing in the face of worsening outbreaks in hospitals and new federal guidance on aerosol transmission of COVID-19.

The union is calling on Shared Health to make N95 masks “the minimum standard” for workers in outbreaks, it said in a news release Thursday, and to improve access for workers treating with patients who have COVID-19 or are suspected of having it.

The Manitoba Nurses Union (MNU) is also pushing for immediate testing of all patients and staff in any health-care setting where a case of COVID-19 has been reported unexpectedly.

“The number of infections among nurses and other health care is absolutely unacceptable. It’s abundantly clear that the current standards are no longer adequate,” said MNU president Darlene Jackson in a written statement Thursday.

At least 75 nurses have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent months according to the union, which represents more than 12,000 nurses in the province.

Three Winnipeg hospitals are currently fighting outbreaks of COVID-19, including the Health Sciences Centre, St. Boniface Hospital and Victoria General Hospital. A total of 27 nurses at St. Boniface and 22 at Victoria have tested positive, the union says.

Currently, nurses who want to access N95 masks outside of certain settings must complete a point-of-care risk assessment.

But the union pointed to new guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada that officially advises SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can spread through aerosols. Previous guidance from the agency only mentioned spread through large respiratory droplets, which can’t remain in the air as long as aerosols can.

Nurses are also permitted access to the masks if they’re working with patients who have or are suspected of having COVID-19, but the union said its heard reports from members that’s not always the case.

“Nurses and other health care professionals are the last line of defence against COVID-19. The government has a legal and ethical obligation to protect them so that we can meet the surge and care for Manitobans,” Jackson said in the release.

CBC News has requested a comment from the province.

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