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N95 and rapid testing shortage hits Calgary


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Aisha Okasha goes to work everyday with high anxiety over COVID-19.

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The owner and pharmacist at Lynnwood Drugs said the government has shifted COVID testing and supply of PPE onto pharmacies but has not given them the supply or resources to meet the demand.

This has been exasperated in the last two weeks under the Omicron variant which has come with recommendations for the use of N95 masks and put more emphasis on the use of rapid test kits supplied by the government. Except they haven’t had either for some time.

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“We are very overworked and we are very stressed out, I think what’s put on us is way too much for us to handle right now,” said Okasha. “All the frustration is coming to us because we are front line and people do not know where to show their frustration.”

The pharmacy has not been able to get N95 masks from their suppliers for a few months. Not only do they not have them for sale for their customers, they do not have them for their own staff when administering rapid antigen tests or doses of vaccine.

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She knows she is dealing with infected customers, having had five positive tests out of 10 tested patients in store on Christmas Eve and more this past week.

Okasha has managed to down some tests for sale, but they face the frustration of the customers who are expecting free tests supplied by the government.

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The last shipment of rapid test kits from the province had 500 kits more than a week ago and they were gone in an hour and a half. They have been given no indication of when they will get more.

It is a constant high-wire act for Okasha, who says one positive test amongst their staff of six could shut down the pharmacy.

She said she understands the PCR testing sites are overwhelmed but the province needs to supply them with testing kits if they are expected to pick up the slack.

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Ibraham Khan, who owns Douglasglen Pharmacy, said they do not have any N95 masks or rapid test kits left, either. They have held on to N95 masks to protect staff, but do not have any for sale, while they will administer individual tests in the pharmacy for those who require it.

He said most of their customers, though, are understanding of the situation.

“There is a huge demand for the free test kits … people keep shopping around and asking more and more for it,” said Khan.

The province’s pharmacy tracking system for available rapid antigen test kits in Calgary show there are none available.

The province said on Friday they have provided more than 800,000 kits — equal to about 4 million tests — province wide to this point and more are on the way. They have procured 10 million additional rapid tests, with the first million arriving this week and three million scheduled to arrive every week through mid-January. Another four million tests are expected from the federal government.

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For January, the province is expecting 15 million tests to be available, including the 8.6 million for schools announced on Thursday.

“We have more coming, we’re getting them out as quickly as we can and urge all Albertans to check on the website to see what’s closest to you and pick up a rapid test as soon as you are able,” said Health Minister Jason Copping, in a press conference on Friday morning.

However, the province was unable to confirm when these test would make their way to pharmacies.

The province did confirm on Friday N95 masks would not be part of the 16.5 million medical grade masks being delivered to Alberta schools for when class returns.

The masks are also increasingly difficult to find on the shelves of pharmacies and department stores. Amazon is running low on availability, selling out in several styles, as are other suppliers like Cangardcare and Canada Strong Masks. It is worth branching out and checking office supply stores, hardware stores and other suppliers — Calgary Fasteners and Tools Ltd. still had stock available as of Friday afternoon.

jaldrich@postmedia.com

Twitter: @JoshAldrich03

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