My COVID-19 Diary – Week 4

April 5 to 11, 2020

Today marks the end of four weeks of self-isolation at home, with no foreseeable end in sight. Our only exceptions have been to go out to buy groceries, which has been an evolving experience each time that we go out. We have picked up our second order of groceries through the on-line grocery shopping service at PC Express, with only a marginal improvement in success. The store was able to fill about two-thirds of our order (with some substitutions), which means that it is still necessary to go out to shop for the remainder. This basically defeats any advantage of shopping on-line, as we will still need to go out and stand in line outside our local grocery stores.

All of this self-isolation at home has given me time to study more about COVID-19 and to practice my watercolour and calligraphy.

Just like the knights of old, our front-line health care workers need all of the protection that they can get in the war against the new coronavirus.

Learning How to Share

We have heard a lot about “personal protective equipment” lately – or, to be more precise, the critical shortage of vital PPE. It seems that there are constant battles out there – country vs. country, state vs. state, province vs. province – to procure needed supplies for the front line. There are inevitably winners and losers in the bidding wars, and even more people will get ill and face death as a result.

Earlier this week we heard reports of a shipment of medical masks in transport to Canada being stopped at the Canada-US border. Negotiations are underway to maintain a two-way flow of all goods and services between our two countries, but the egocentric bully in the room is unpredictable and cannot be trusted. Apparently, negotiations initially enabled 500K out of a total of 3 million masks to be permitted to cross the border to meet needs in Ontario. Our premier has stated that this is only enough to last one week.

Something more needs to be done to guarantee the safety and security of supply lines in these times of need, and to find a way to help ease the pain for the losers. Maybe we should also look back to “the days of old” for a solution. In Mediaeval times, the church would collect a tithe of 10% of all farmers’ crops for redistribution to the poor and needy. In a similar fashion, successful procurers of PPE could be required to set aside 10% of their purchases for redistribution to other jurisdictions with a demonstrated need. Share the wealth.

Learning How to Become More Self-sufficient

One lesson being learned from the COVID-19 crisis is the need for countries to become more self-sufficient in the production of PPE. We are hearing more stories from Canadian businesses that are re-tooling to assist the cause.

Local distilleries are distilling hand sanitizer instead of hard liquor. This is an easy conversion, as sanitizer needs to be at least 60% alcohol. Ontario contributors include the Corby Spirit and Wine Ltd. in Walkerville, Top Shelf Distillers in Perth, the Spirit of York Distillery in Toronto, and Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers in Beamsville. Dillon’s reports that they have donated and distributed 25K bottles (750 ml each) to first responders, and they are continuing to produce sanitizer as required.

Several companies have taken up the challenge to manufacture face shields for front line workers. Inksmith, a Kitchener technology company, has retooled their 3-D printers and laser cutters to start manufacturing face shields. They have developed their own product – the Canadian Shield – for mass production, and they are now hiring more employees to help them meet the demand. Bauer Hockey in Montreal manufactures hockey equipment (including helmets and visors), and they are now ramping up production of face masks for the North American market.

Medical gloves are more difficult to procure. Malaysia is the primary producer of medical gloves, and has traditionally supplied over 75% of the world market. Current production of latex and rubber gloves is only at half capacity, after all factories were temporarily closed in mid-March. This situation has further complexities, as there have been forced labour concerns with several of the Malaysian companies that manufacture these gloves. Other suppliers, such as China, have also disrupted their manufacturing as a result of the virus.

Most Canadian garment production was outsourced to overseas manufacturers many years ago, so there is a dearth of domestic capacity. Stanfields Ltd. in Nova Scotia is beginning to manufacture gowns for health care workers. Other manufacturers such as Arc’teryx and Canada Goose are also adapting their production lines to make gowns using Canadian-sourced fabrics.

Canadian pulp mills have supplied ingredients for the manufacture of surgical masks and N95 respirators, but there are no Canadian manufacturers of these masks. Front-line health care workers require the highest quality masks, and as they are in short supply, there are studies underway to determine how a mask may be disinfected and safely recycled for repeated use.

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