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Calgarians rally to build coronavirus PPE for at-risk groups

Calgarians are taking a proactive approach to COVID 19, ensuring we don’t end up without a steady stream of protective gear.

Citizens are finding innovative ways to source and manufacture various face masks and shield. They’re giving them to groups not regularly supplied by the Alberta government.

AHS Vice President and Medical Director Dr. Mark Joffe said in a briefing earlier this week that he feels confident in Alberta’s overall supply of medical face shields.

“We do have sufficient supplies on hand currently, with plans to bring in additional supplies as needed,” said Joffe.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the province will continue to build on that cache.

“While we have a considerable stockpile, we do want redundant supplies as well,” Kenney said.

“We are working on that both through extraordinary overseas procurement efforts, and innovative domestic procurement,” said Kenney.

On Friday, Alberta launched its Bits and Pieces program. It allows individuals and companies to pitch in to help in the COVID-19 efforts.

Enter the Trump Administration

While Kenney may feel comfortable with Alberta’s supply, his confidence may have taken a hit, thanks to the Trump administration.

US company 3M, a critical supplier of the face masks, has said the Trump administration is pressuring them to stop exports of their N95 respirators.

3M said there would be “significant humanitarian implications” if they were to comply with the Trump administration’s recommendation. It could result in retaliation, as well as diminished supplies for the U.S.

“If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease. That is the opposite of what we and the administration, on behalf of the American people, both seek,” said 3M.

Not all establishments are getting supplies

The Kenney government’s plan to buy medical equipment does not, however, resupply equipment to non-AHS facilities, such as pharmacies, medical offices or shelters.

Shannon Hoover, the founder of Fuse 33 Makerspace, discovered that lack of access to face shields in Calgary.

“We went out to purchase more PPE (personal protective equipment) for our shop, and there was nothing. Restock times weren’t even available. So, that’s when we started making them,” said Hoover.

Fuse 33 volunteers work on producing hand sanitizer, face shields, and face masks to donate to groups in need. Photo contributed.

The decision to manufacture masks for themselves evolved into Fuse 33 making masks for other high-risk facilities. They’re able to do so at a lower cost.

Hoover said it’s important to note the difference between face shields, which can be used in clinics, and face masks, such as the N95 respirators which are required in surgical settings.

“What I’m trying to do is make reliable masks that the public and other workers can wear, ensuring people aren’t buying the N95 masks that the hospitals need,” said Hoover.

Coronavirus support arrives in many different forms

Members of Calgary’s Chinese community also began an effort, starting with a donation of the same nature to Wuhan.

A volunteer group, led by local high-school teacher Lucia Liu, raised $50,000 worth of PPE equipment for frontline doctors in Wuhan. Those donations were sent back when the COVID-19 situation escalated in Canada.

Word of Lui’s efforts made it back to Anna Yang in Wuhan. She secured 2,000 surgical masks that were sent back to Canada, with another 18,000 on the way.

“[Yang] gave us the masks on the condition that we give it to the group who needed it the most. The intention was also to donate to those who donated to Wuhan first,” said Liu.

LSCO Community Centre receives their PPE care package from Wuhan, China. Photo contributed.

Even individual Calgarians are doing their part to contribute to the need for face shields.

Brettney Savoie holding one of the mask she made out of old fabric that was just collecting dust. Photo contributed.

Brettney Savoie, a teacher at Western Canada High School, donated 23 masks to The Mustard Seed. She sewed them herself over spring break.

“I came across an article from the States that hospitals were asking for people to donate masks, any kind of masks, even homemade masks, and there was even a tutorial linked on how to make them,” said Savoie.

“I find sewing therapeutic, and if I could put my own therapy to good use by making products that others need in a time of crisis, then why wouldn’t I?”