Saskatchewan to learn lesson after disposing expired N-95 masks: health minister

REGINA — Saskatchewan's health minister says the province has learned lessons from a decision several years ago to clear thousands of expired masks from the province's stockpile.

Jim Reiter says he was concerned to learn that about 166,000 N-95 respirator masks were disposed from a storage room at a Regina hospital in 2014.

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The issue was raised by the Opposition NDP, which says the province hired a consultant that year to clear some of its pandemic inventory.

NDP health critic Vicki Mowat says the government failed to properly maintain supplies and wasted tax dollars.

Reiter says there isn't a current shortage of personal protective equipment but, like other provinces, Saskatchewan faced supply chain pressures when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in the spring.

Reiter says officials are putting plans in place to ensure supplies like masks aren't left to expire.

"We've learned from this one," he said Thursday.

"It's as simple as an eye is kept on expiry dates and before it expires it gets put into the mainstream of the health-care system and is used. And then those supplies are replaced with new ones."

Earlier Thursday, Saskatchewan reported another fatality from COVID-19, bringing the provincial death toll to 14. The person was in their 70s and in the far north region.

Health officials reported 10 new infections over the past two days, for a total of 795 cases in the province. Most of the new infections are in the far north.

So far, 701 people have recovered from the illness, while six remain in hospital.

Officials also said that they are no longer cautioning against non-essential travel to northern Alberta.

The advisory was put in place in April after cases of COVID-19 in northern Saskatchewan were linked to travel in northern Alberta, with an outbreak at an oilsands facility near Fort McMurray.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority says officials in Alberta have announced that outbreak is over. But residents travelling between the areas are still encouraged to take precautions and to get tested if they develop symptoms related to COVID-19.

Saskatchewan's far north region has been one of the areas hit hardest by the virus and is reported to have 46 active cases.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2020

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