VANCOUVER -- Canadian Tire says it has halted the sale of medical-grade masks in its stores, an announcement made days after concerns were raised by critics.

The company says the decision was not made as a result of CTV News' coverage of those concerns, but had been "in the works for weeks."

A spokesperson for the chain store says the company will instead be donating the remaining supply to health-care workers at local hospitals and other locations.

Several stores were under fire earlier this week for stocking large quantities of the masks and other protective gear.

CTV News reached out to Canadian Tire for comment at the time, but no response was received until Thursday, when a statement was issued widely to media. The statement did not address criticism raised by those who spoke to CTV.

The company said 160,000 masks, 164,000 pairs of gloves and 20,000 litres of hand sanitizer have been donated to hospitals, nursing homes and community organizations.

It said it "stopped the replenishment" of N95 masks in stores weeks ago, and has since stopped the sale of those and ASTM-certified masks.

The products will not be sold in stores or on Canadian Tire's website.

The company also announced the launch of a $5-million response fund to help Canadians impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the fund, donations will be made to the United Way and the Red Cross.

Critics spoke to CTV Sunday about the stacks of pricey masks seen at local stores, at a time when hospitals were calling for donations.

Two Vancouver dentists said they were dismayed to see the boxes piled up, and listed at what one described as "insane prices." 

On Tuesday, an association spearheading donations of such equipment said its members had also seen masks for sale at Canadian Tire stores. The group confirmed the masks are the type of items doctors, nurses and care workers need.

"We currently receive multiple requests on a daily basis from organizations stating that their supplies are critically low, which means that they're looking at three days or fewer of supplies," SafeCareBC's Jennifer Lyle said at the time.

The president of a nurses' union echoed the need for medical-grade protective equipment like masks.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Jen St. Denis