< Browse more articles

INITIAL NOTE: Your local Public Health Unit, Provincial and Federal Chief Medical Officers of Health (CMOH) are your best sources of information regarding appropriate COVID-19 protocols including the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). 

HRAIs members have had questions about the need for and availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.  During a webinar held on March 30th, HRAI provided information about steps that the association has taken to get access to supplies and information to help members.  The following is some additional information for members’ consideration.

Hearing of the need for more PPE, HRAI reached out to industry supply channels about securing additional supplies.  Initial reactions were that all available (already scarce) supplies were being re-directed to medical services providers for front-line workers, but there is an expectation that more supplies will come on-line soon.

When HRAI learned that the Ontario government had acquired access to a significant supply of N95 respiratory masks (6 million), the association connected with staff in the office of Minister of Government and Consumer Services Lisa Thompson to ask about securing supplies for HVACR contractors performing essential services in homes and buildings where there might be a risk of exposure to COVID-19.  Minister Thompson’s office oversees the provincial procurement process. 

While the Minister’s office recognized that there are rare circumstances when HVACR service personnel require the use of the N95 mask, they replied that current PPE supplies are being allocated exclusively for the use of healthcare staff and frontline emergency responders. 

To help allay industry concerns about getting access to N95 masks, Ontario MGCS staff also provided a letter from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health which provided the following clarification about the need for masks:

  • N95 masks are only needed and only useful when working within a two meter proximity of someone suspected of having COVID 19 or who has COVID 19
  • Within a hospital setting, unless staff are within the two meter proximity, as noted above, surgical masks are used
  • The CMOH advises that, in general, people should NOT use N95 masks if they are not typically used during the regular course of business

The general suggestion was that surgical masks, which are in greater supply, will serve the purpose for most service personnel.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, has further added that there is a general health concern about wearing masks, as they can give people a “false sense of security.” While her advice was not directed to HVACR service personnel specifically, the cautionary note was based on evidence that, for individuals unaccustomed to use of a mask, there is an increased risk of infection (not just COVID-19) because a) having a mask on will induce the wearer to touch their face more frequently to adjust the mask, and b) masks don’t cover the eyes and COVID-19 can be transmitted by touching one’s eyes.

The federal government is also making some effort to increase the supply of PPE.  On March 30th, the Government of Canada announced an allocation of $2 billion to help procure or make more personal protective equipment.  In response to government requests to help out, some manufacturers have re-tooled to produce PPE, as well as ventilators for use in hospitals.  One excellent example from the HVACR sector is Napoleon, which announced earlier this week that they are temporarily switching production employees from making barbeques to assisting a medical supply company producing face shields.