VANCOUVER -- An association that has been spearheading donations of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers has confirmed that boxes of masks seen for sale at several Canadian Tire stores in Vancouver are the type of items that doctors, nurses and care workers desperately need right now as they fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

The stores have come under fire for stocking large quantities of masks and a wide range of other protective gear such as eye goggles and disposable surgical gowns. Vancouver dentists Alex Rosenczweig and Farzan Ghannad previously spoke to CTV News Vancouver about their concerns that such items should be reserved for health care workers.

“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,” Jennifer Lyle, the CEO of SafeCare BC, told CTV News Vancouver.

“One of the top requested items when it comes to (personal protective equipment) is surgical masks.”

Lyle added that the masks in a photo Ghannad took at the Canadian Tire store on Cambie Street in Vancouver on Friday are the type of item health care workers need. SafeCare BC is an association that advocates for continuing care workers, and it has been running a donation drive called Operation Protect since late March.

Christine Sorensen, president of the B.C. Nurses' Union, echoed the need for medical-grade protective equipment like masks, gowns and eye protectors to be diverted to the health care sector at this critical point in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If people have medical-grade supplies that we can use in the health care system, it’s critical that those are donated — given to the health care system,” Sorensen said. 

Canadian Tire did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.

While emphasizing that the need for personal protective equipment, also known as PPE, is huge right now, Lyle said there are smaller home care providers who do rely on retailers like Canadian Tire to get their equipment.

Family members of people who receive home care may also be asked to wear a mask if someone in the home is sick, so those people might also seek out equipment through a store like Walmart or Canadian Tire, Lyle said.

On a visit to Canadian Tire’s Grandview location in Vancouver on Monday, a CTV News reporter found mannequins modelling full surgical gowns, eye protectors and masks, as well as bins and bins full of masks, face shields and other protective equipment.

Rosenczweig said the type of items Canadian Tire is selling is sending the wrong message.

“It’s also selling to the hysteria that people are going to need disposable gown - like who needs a disposable gown walking around Vancouver?” said Rosenczweig.

As for the prices seen at the stores — such as $50 for a box of 50 masks — they are higher than normal, Lyle confirmed. 

But she said all suppliers have increased the price of items like surgical masks as demand for PPE around the world has soared. While surgical masks cost around 12 cents per mask in January and February, they’re now priced at anywhere between 50 cents and $1. 

At Monday’s press conference on the status of COVID-19 in B.C., provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry spoke about new advice from Canada’s chief public health officer about whether the general public should wear masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Dr. Theresa Tam has said that wearing a simple cloth mask is a way for someone who might have COVID-19 without realizing it to avoid spreading the illness to others.

But Henry said that medical-grade masks need to be reserved for health care workers.

“Medical masks and respirators need to be reserved for our health care settings and our health care workers, because that’s where they do the most good,” she said.

Henry said that people who are not working in health care, but want to wear a mask, should wear “a handmade face cloth covering.” Such a mask could protect others from being exposed to the wearer’s airborne droplets, Henry said. 

“For short term they can protect others around you from your droplets,” Henry said.

“So they can’t protect you from being infected with this virus, but for short term it is similar strategy to coughing into your sleeve or tissue.” 

With files from CTV News Vancouver's St. John Alexander and The Canadian Press.