A large shipment of defective surgical face masks from China is being recalled from Toronto’s long-term care homes after being issued to staff last week.
In all, 4,000 boxes — representing half of the surgical masks in the city’s inventory — were received and 62,600 masks were distributed to staff in the city’s long-term care homes on March 28.
No other city staff received the defective equipment.
The masks, packed 50 to a box, began ripping and tearing when they were removed from their packaging, according to Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg, who is leading the city’s emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Further inspection revealed the masks did not meet the city’s standards and specifications. They have been recalled and the city’s occupational health and safety staff are investigating to determine how many employees were caring for a patient while wearing the masks, and if there was possible exposure to COVID-19.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 1,449 cases of COVID-19 in Toronto, including 142 in hospital and 63 in intensive care. In all, 42 people have died. Twelve doctors have been diagnosed with the illness, 13 nurses and six other health-care workers.
Procedures have been amended to include a more robust inspection of personal protective equipment before it is distributed, Pegg said, including a visual inspection.
“The supply — not only the timely supply, but the supply of high-quality personal protective equipment — is (a problem) that is being faced and being experienced by all of our colleagues around the world,” he said.
“As a result, it has become necessary for us to take extra precautions.”
He added that defective and counterfeit products are an issue throughout the supply chain for personal protective equipment, with global demand far outstripping supply.
The loss of the surgical masks, purchased for $200,000 and which will now be returned to the vendor, creates a significant shortfall of surgical masks for the city, with a two-to-three week supply remaining, according to Pegg.
The city has a six-to-eight week supply of other categories of personal protective equipment, he added.
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The city has begun using its last-resort stockpile, stored at a warehouse in Toronto, while it waits for new shipments. It has asked the province for help with procuring more masks.
The city operates 10 long-term care facilities, including Seven Oaks in Scarborough, which suffered an outbreak last week that killed eight residents.
Residents of long-term care homes have proven particularly vulnerable to the disease, which attacks the respiratory system.