By Signe Olynyk
Special to the Pioneer
Dr. Murray Trusler – a retired physician now living in Fairmont with a storied career that includes managing the most remote hospitals in Ontario, disaster planning for mass casualties, and running international emergency departments – remembers the surgical days before N-95 masks, when doctors used cloth masks for medical procedures.
Sometimes in high-risk infectious situations, he would wear two masks at a time, along with doubling up on gowns. Back then, it was an even higher infectious environment because there weren’t as many vaccines. The masks saved him and countless others from spreading disease.
Dr. Trusler believes everyone needs to be wearing a mask. Immediately.
A homemade cloth mask has been medically proven to be 98 per cent as effective as an N-95 mask, provided it fits properly and is well made. Although Canadian health officials and other countries have given mixed messages about masks, Dr. Trusler believes this could be a fatal mistake.
“We have to mobilize Canadians to do two things: make sufficient, properly made masks and get the word out that everyone needs to wear one outside of the home.”
Like Canada and many other countries, social distancing and hygiene (frequent hand washing) were the two key messages that authorities advised to prevent transmission of the COVID-19 virus.
But in the Czech Republic, the minister of health insisted on one additional measure: anyone who left their home had to wear a mask. Transmission of the virus slowed significantly, unlike in other countries where the number of infected people continued to rise.
Gail Gross has been working with Dr. Gareth Manheimer, chief of staff at the Invermere and District Hospital to ensure there is enough personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff, and for the public.
“We have had disposable masks and other PPE donated from businesses and individuals,” said Gross. “We have given masks to grocery store workers, cloth masks to pharmacies, and are working hard to get more out to as many people in the community as possible. We want everyone to have this protection, and it is free to anyone who needs it – as supplies are available.”
Because people in the community are donating the materials and time to make the masks, there is no expense to the healthcare system.
“For every infection, every hospital admission, every ICU admission, every intubation, every death prevented, there is a huge cost savings to the healthcare system,” said Dr. Trusler.
For every infection prevented, the risk to healthcare workers and other front line citizens is also reduced. For the relatively low cost of making and distributing masks that slow the disease, it could save millions for the healthcare system, and prevent the economic collapse from being even worse.
“We are facing economic destruction as we have never experienced in our lifetime. We will be forced to end our policy of isolation soon – in a matter of weeks according to the prime minister,” said Dr. Tesler. “When we return to work, social distancing will decrease no matter how careful we are. The one way we can readily reduce the risk of infection from closer contact is to wear cloth masks. To be effective, every one of us will have to be on board.”
In the Columbia Valley, there are more than 100 seamstresses making masks for everyone in our community – for free. Approximately 700 masks have been made so far, but it is anticipated that we will need upwards of 10,000 masks for local use. Homemade masks are being produced around the clock, and delivered daily to various locations.
In Invermere, masks are available at Lambert Insurance, Pharmasave, and Valley Foods. In Radium, you can pick yours up at the Mountainside Market. They’re at Pipps in Edgewater too.
“Every day we drop a supply off, but the masks are all gone by the end of the day,” said Erin Chandler, a firefighter with the Invermere Fire Department who is helping to coordinate the distribution effort. “More volunteers are needed, as well as donations of fabric and elastic. We have had a lot of support, but there is still a great demand.”
Chandler stressed that masks need to laundered before wearing and need to be cleaned every time before reusing.
“You don’t know who has touched it before you put it on and if they potentially had the virus,” she said. She also emphasized how important it is to “put it on and leave it on.”
“Every time you touch it, you are potentially contaminating it with COVID-19, and there could be droplets on the outside,” she said.
If you can help make masks or donate supplies, please contact Chandler at firstname.lastname@example.org.