Will NWT PPE make the grade?

The Northwest Territories government is taking greater precautions by having some of the personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies be made within the territory.

Lisa Giovannetti, communications officer at NTHSSA (Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority) stressing the importance of quality assurance, she said, “all vendors that we purchase PPE must provide evidence that they have a Medical Device Establishment Licence (MDEL) and that their products meet the specification set out by Health Canada.”

Due to an extensive demand for PPE and medical devices, Health Canada and Paddy Handy, the federal minister of health, have issued an interim order that allows for certain medical supplies that may not fully meet regulatory requirements to be imported and sold in the country.

This may allow for the necessary supplies, devices, equipment, and protective gear to get into the hands of frontline workers sooner.

The pandemic has created a situation where some PPE may come without a full standard inspection.

Items deemed “designated medical devices“, with this new order are eligible for the exceptional importation and sale provisions.

Giovannetti assures the quality of PPE equipment by regularly doing internal checks of its equipment.

The NTHSSA has not purchased any KN95 masks, recently recalled by Health Canada, as they are more appropriate for industrial use. The KN95 mask doesn’t have a proper seal or FIT test. Whereas, “the N95 Respirators that we purchase are always medical-grade, and are FIT tested to our employees, to ensure they maintain a proper seal and fit each user properly,” Giovannetti stated.

A Fit test is designed to be properly fitted to an individual’s face type to provide the safest protection. Assuring the coverage and seal of a facemask covers the predominant airways. As outlined in the Saftey First Training Outline, “A Qualitative Respirator Mask Fit Test is the most common type of test and covers most of the regularly used workplace masks such as N95, half-face and full-face respirators. The test involves the taste sensitivity of the person being tested and can be applied to any type of mask that does not have its own separate air supply”.

Dr. Sarah Cook, the territorial medical director, mentioned during a press conference that there would be a committee appointed to review and quality control the given PPE made within the territory. In response, the multidisciplinary committee as stated by Giovannetti, “was created under Safety Chair of the Department of Health and Social Services Emergency Operations Committee and the Authorities Covid response Team…and was created to review alternate forms of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or products like hand sanitizer, face masks, eye protection, etc., for use when normal resources are depleted”.

The NTHSSA has put together a group of professionals to look after the production, manufacturing, and distribution of the territory’s medical supplies. The team consists of the IPAC (Infection Prevention and Control Canada), OHS (Occupational Health & Safety), Medical Device Reprocessing, a member of the UNW (Union of Northern Workers), a member from the DHSS (Department of Health and Human Services) and the Biological Safety Officer”, Giovannetti says, comprises the team responsible for reviewing alternate forms of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Lastly, Dr.Cook stresses, “that the committee has set criteria that they use to “Pass or Fail” products based on best practices, industry standards, and Health Canada regulations.

GeneXpert in limited supply

Due to a national shortage of testing cartridges, the NWT government has found it difficult to procure more testing supplies for the GeneXpert. Lisa Giovanettii says, “Our testing strategy is to send swabs to the Alberta provincial laboratory as usual and to take a prioritization approach to the use of the GeneXpert”.

Giovannetti confirms that the measures are the same regardless of a positive or negative diagnosis of the disease. The circumstances don’t change much as people will just have to remain at home in isolation for 14 days.

The committee cannot “guarantee or confirm the regular supply of testing supplies at this point”.

Allocations are done weekly, in the hopes to build a stockpile of supplies to use in the event of an outbreak that requires urgent and rapid testing. For example, if an outbreak in a long-term care facility  doesn’t get the rapid testing it needs to ensure rapid management and containment of the virus it could be life-threatening.

Priority and urgency at this moment determine eligibility.

At this time, the NTHSSA has two GeneXperts set up at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife.

No further compensation will be sought as the National Microbiology lab has provided them to the NWT on a loan agreement.

* Image provided by Cepheid of the GeneXpert Edge *

How much is too much?

CKLB reached out to inquire about the local supply of PPE. Mike Westwick, the GNWT’s manager of communications for COVID, said that there is “no shortage, no scarcity of PPE equipment in the territory”.

He added, the department of Health and Social Services is focused on “continuing to rise to the challenge and bring stability back to the people”.

Looking to the future of the pandemic, the NWT government is working towards maintaining its 50+ day COVID-19-free report.

Latest numbers

The territory has proven to effectively contain the virus and maintain the outbreak of COVID-19. Health officials have completed 2,135 tests, with 2,130 returning negative, 43 pending cases, five confirmed and recovered to date.

The Northwest Territories has been without an active case for 54 days.



About the Author

Mariah Caruso
Mariah Caruso is a digital journalist, originally from Toronto, Canada. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a Hons. Bachelor of Arts and completed her Journalism post-grad at Sheridan College. She has an insatiable appetite for life, storytelling, connecting to the people, and getting to the heart of the issue. On her spare time, you can find her at your local coffee shop writing songs, poetry and prose or at the gym out-lifting men. If you have a story idea, feel free to send her an email at mariah.caruso@cklbradio.com or call 867-766-2552 Ext 108