Risk to being overly cautious in COVID-19 protection protocols: PHAC

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OTTAWA — The Public Health Agency of Canada says it will consult with the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions on its next set of guidelines for protecting health-care workers against the novel coronavirus, but warned stricter protocols carry their own set of risks.

The interim guidelines the federal public health agency released this month lay out the precautions health-care workers should take when assessing and treating a patient possibly infected with coronavirus, including what protective equipment should be used.

The nurses unions warned the national guidelines to protect nurses, doctors and other hospital staff from exposure to the highly contagious virus are less stringent than those in other jurisdictions, including Ontario.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, for example, calls for health-care workers to wear ventilators when interacting with potential coronavirus patients to protect against possible airborne transmissions, but Canada’s national guidelines only call for surgical masks in most scenarios.

Dr. Howard Njoo, the deputy chief public health officer, says the agency will consider those concerns, but notes that being overly cautious could mean burning through available supplies unnecessarily.

The public health agency says some officials worry about needlessly using up the supply of respirators, since the evidence so far indicates the virus is transmitted by droplets from coughs and sneezes, not through the air.