Karen Fung-Harris, a dentist and co-owner of two practices in Ottawa, is shown in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Somer Taylor

VIDEO: Dentists worried about shortage of masks amid coronavirus outbreak

Feds: ‘There are a lot of people wearing masks who don’t need to wear masks’

The Ontario Ministry of Health says it’s working with manufacturers of medical masks to address shortage concerns expressed by dentists in light of the new coronavirus outbreak, according to a memo sent to the provincial regulator.

In the note sent to the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario last week, the ministry said it’s aware some orders of personal protective equipment, which dentists need to wear during any routine dental procedure, are backlogged, but added it was “following up to make sure critical shortages are addressed.”

The ministry said Thursday in a statement that it is working with the health sector and has “developed systems to identify organizations who are having challenges getting the supplies they need, and have processes in place to ensure that providers are able care for their patients safely now and in the future.”

Fear surrounding a new type of coronavirus dubbed COVID-19 that’s rapidly spreading in China has prompted a rush from the public to stockpile the protective gear, despite advice from Canadian health authorities that they are not effective for healthy people.

“There are a lot of people wearing masks who don’t need to wear masks,” federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said in a press conference earlier this week, adding the government was tracking the situation.

“Canada does have a stockpile (of masks) for domestic use and we have enough supply as we understand the outbreak right now,” she said. “There are some rumblings around a supply chain shortage and we’re monitoring that very carefully.”

The Canadian Dental Association has contacted distributors of masks, gloves and other protective equipment because of concerns raised by dentists across the country, said Aaron Burry, its associate director of professional affairs.

He said suppliers are being “cautious” and “putting measures in place” to control the availability of these products and to prevent stockpiling.

“No one can predict where things may go but to our understanding the supply is sufficient for the next few months,” said Burry.

But he acknowledged he has heard about some supply problems and says he has been told that boxes of masks have been stolen from dental waiting rooms.

Karen Fung-Harris, a dentist and co-owner of two practices in Ottawa, said she has had to change suppliers and her costs have gone up.

“Our biggest worry as dentists is that we can’t practice without (masks)…and we know there is a shortage.”

Fung-Harris says that her usual supplier is out of masks and that although she can still buy small quantities from other suppliers, the price has jumped. She says she normally pays $7 to $9 for a box of 50 masks but because of the shortage she is now ordering different brands, in smaller quantities, from a variety of suppliers and is having to pay $16 to $18 per box.

READ MORE: Fear, boredom and adventure on cruise ship quarantined in Japan

At her offices, staff use between 75 to 125 masks a day, so the change in cost is not trivial, but her main concern is supply.

“We don’t know when we’re going to run out and not be able to stock them again,” she said.

The Canadian Press

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