The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has received its first shipment of N95 respirator masks that were manufactured by a Winnipeg company.
It hopes to send out 20,000 masks to frontline workers by the end of the month.
Precision Advanced Digital Manufacturing has also produced reusable silicon N95 masks and 3D-printed nasopharyngeal swabs; its specialty is using 3D printing for medical, aerospace, energy and industrial sectors.
The Precision Air N95-level respirator, which can be reused as many as 30 times, was approved by Health Canada on Nov. 2 and deliveries to the WRHA began last weekend.
"It’s literally unheard of, when you think of these types of products — the mask respirators — to be manufactured locally," Precision CEO Martin Petrak. "It’s a very unique time, but we also feel a bit of the pressure to deliver."
The first delivery was in the hundreds, Petrak said, and as delivery ramps up, he expects thousands will be sent weekly.
"Now our challenge isn’t getting approval, now it’s the ramp-up, it’s the scale, it’s all those things that you need to do at a much quicker pace," he said.
The masks are part of a $9.27-million contract the province signed with Precision ADM in May; the initial order was for 500,000 masks and the province has the option to purchase an additional 500,000.
The masks are meant for front-line workers: features include custom air-flow filters and improved acoustic resonance to make it easier to understand the speaker. The wide distribution of N95 masks could indirectly result in a reduction in positive COVID-19 cases among health-care workers. Petrak says that contributes to the pressure to send out respirator masks quickly.
"Obviously, we see the numbers climbing in Manitoba," he said. "We know that there’s urgency associated with receiving this product and getting it out there to front-line workers as quickly as possible."
A spokesperson from Shared Health confirmed they had received the first shipment of masks but they were "not currently in use within the health system."
The mask includes adjustable straps and recyclable, disposable caps. A version of the mask, called The Precision Air Logix, will also include inventory management through a smartphone app.
"We hope that there’s a solution that’s here when it comes to PPE and when it comes to high-value products. I think we’ve brought the quality of a respirator up for the medical community," Petrak said.
Petrak said Precision ADM is pitching its mask to other provinces.
"Our local government’s investment really made it possible to offer something this quickly, and to be able to ramp up with a locally manufactured product that’s a medical device, essentially," he said.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.