Yellowknife company 62 Degrees North is to begin manufacturing its own hand sanitizer to combat a global shortage during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, the NWT government confirmed its chief public health officer had used her emergency powers to give the medical services company permission to make the product.
That means the sanitizer can be made available to the general public. Health Canada is in the process of fast-tracking licensing for 62 Degrees North’s sanitizer, which will then enable healthcare facilities to use it.
“Clearly, there’s a shortage of everything,” said 62 Degrees North president Matt Vincent.
“There are a lot of people, like the distilleries back east, jumping on board to make hand sanitizer. I decided to look into it and see if it was feasible.”
Hand sanitizer itself is out of stock globally with manufacturers racing to fill an overwhelming number of orders. However, Vincent was able to find suppliers with stocks of sanitizer’s component ingredients.
His company – which already has expertise in medical supplies – will create batches of liquid, alcohol-based hand sanitizer following a recipe approved by the World Health Organization.
“Even if the global market turns around tomorrow and all the big manufacturers start catching up, there is still going to be time before it starts reaching us,” Vincent told Cabin Radio.
“We’re more vulnerable. We have less resources, we’re more isolated.
“The faster we can get this out to the public, the better.”
Masks, gowns, gloves next?
Though Vincent only had the idea earlier in March, supplies are arriving and orders coming in. Approval from the NWT’s chief public health officer came on Friday last week. (The NWT government’s own Taiga Lab has also received approval to do the same thing.)
That approval, and Health Canada certification, will last for as long as the Covid-19 pandemic does. Vincent has no plan to remain a manufacturer of hand sanitizer once the threat is over.
He is, however, already looking at other shortages his company could tackle.
“We’ve reached out to manufacturers of different products that are in short supply like gowns, gloves, and masks,” he said.
“I’ll see what we can start doing with those.
“Everyone’s saying there’s a shortage. Let’s start trying to find a way to overcome that.”
Sewing new masks in Fort Res
Healthcare facilities worldwide are struggling to find supplies of masks, particularly tightly fitting, professional-grade N95 respirators that filter out at least 95 percent of all airborne particles.
While homemade masks cannot attempt to provide the security of an N95, research has in the past suggested they are better than nothing when it comes to a pandemic.
In Fort Resolution, part-time sewing teacher Emily MacLean says she has begun making masks to do what she can for people who have no access to anything else.
She thinks of it as her way of giving back to Fort Resolution, where residents have helped her family a number of times.
Emily MacLean sent these photos of her homemade masks.
“I got sick with cancer a few years back and everybody helped me out,” she told Cabin Radio this week.
“When my husband had a heart attack, same thing. The band donated money.”
MacLean has so far made and given away several dozen masks. She makes deliveries while out running her errands.
“When I go for my drives or get my groceries, that’s when I deliver the masks,” she said. “I knock on the doors and run away.”
‘It’s my hobby’
This kind of mask production differs from 62 Degrees North’s venture in that homemade masks carry no approval from the chief public health officer, nor Health Canada.
Last week, the federal government urged caution when using homemade masks – particularly if you’re not ill, as they may give you a false sense of security.
Medical professionals use N95 respirators because they fit snugly to the face, creating a seal, when worn correctly. The respirators use three different types of filtering to remove all but the smallest particles while letting wearers continue to breathe.
Fabric masks can’t achieve the same thing and most fabrics aren’t strong enough to filter out a virus (there are too many tiny holes the virus could get through). But they can help to catch coughs and sneezes from their wearers.
Toronto’s Michael Garron Hospital recently appealed for nearby residents to take the same action as MacLean and begin making masks.
The hospital, citing an equipment shortage, released its own pattern for a type of mask to be worn by hospital visitors and recovering patients. (Hospital staff will continue to wear professional-grade masks.) Hospital managers hope residents can make up to a thousand masks per week.
Instructions to make the hospital’s preferred design of mask can be found on the hospital foundation’s website.
“It’s my hobby,” said MacLean as she returned to sewing in Fort Resolution.
“I can’t really go out anywhere, so [making masks] keeps me busy.”