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The Canadian Press

The Manitoba government says it’s willing to sign purchase orders worth up to $15 million to companies that can quickly make reusable masks as it continues to look for equipment to protect health-care workers as they fight COVID-19.

Chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin and chief nursing officer Lanette Siragusa told a news conference on Saturday that the government wants local companies to make the masks, which have been designed by a team of medical experts at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre.

The province says the masks have a silicone base and use an N95 or higher grade filter.

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Plastic surgeon Dr. Christian Petropolis, who led the design team, said in a news release the small disk filter uses considerably less N95 material, the main component that has led to a worldwide mask shortage.

Siragusa says that last week in particular was a “wakeup call” for Manitoba as it, like other jurisdictions worldwide, tried to obtain enough protective equipment.

She says the province wants to get away from relying on outside sources for the gear.

“As much as possible we want made-in-Manitoba solutions. I just think that’s our best bet for getting through the weeks and months ahead,” she said.

The province says a portion of the $15 million may be available in advance to supplement start-up costs.

Siragusa said shortages of protective equipment has forced the postponement of elective non-urgent surgery, and has also caused changes in diagnostic procedures.

The province said the reusable masks are as effective as other commercially avilable N95 masks.

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“One thing that has never shifted and is always top of mind in every conversation is the importance of making sure that our staff are safe,” Sigursa said.

Manitoba said Saturday that it had 226 confirmed 17 presumptive cases of COVID-19. Four people in the province have died.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2020.

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