VANCOUVER -- The BC Nurses Union is expressing concern over the amount of personal protective equipment being made available for health-care workers around the province during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The BCNU said, since March 20, it's received more than 1,700 complaints from nurses across the province who are "increasingly concerned" that employers have not been able to provide critical PPE like gowns, gloves, face shields, and N95 respirator masks. In a news release, the union described the PPE supply levels around B.C. as "dangerously low."

"Nurses are getting only one mask per shift. Others have been told to leave their used mask on a piece of paper towel when they go on a break,” Christine Sorensen, president of the BCNU, said in a statement.

Sorensen added that these reports from front-line workers have led the union to question the level of pandemic preparedness that existed before COVID-19 and how health employers are planning for future challenges that will come up as the pandemic continues.

"Respirators, masks and other PPE are meant to be the last line of defence for care providers, after all other control measures are in place," Sorensen said. "The fact that some hospital emergency rooms still have triage desks without Plexiglas barriers, like the ones now present in grocery stores and food processing plants, is quite simply beyond me."

On April 20 during the province's daily briefing on COVID-19, Health Minister Adrian Dix said that it was a challenge obtaining PPE from vendors and manufacturers with whom they didn't have a previous relationship and that traditional PPE products were running low. Dix also said the province was committed to engaging with unions, stakeholders and health-care workers before any alternative products were introduced into the system.