VICTORIA -- The BC Nurses' Union says the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the province’s hospitals is falling dangerously low.

The union says it has received more 1,700 complaints from front-line workers about a lack of PPE since mid-March. According to the union, nurses are concerned their employers will soon be unable to supply them with gowns, gloves, face shields and face masks.

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

The union says accounts from nurses in hospitals dealing with COVID-19 have them concerned about the readiness of health authorities before this crisis, and their ability to weather the continuing pandemic. 

“Respirators, masks and other PPE are meant to be the last line of defense for care providers, after all other control measures are in place,” Sorensen said Monday. 

“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.” 

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has been on a buying spree in an attempt to keep up with demand for PPE. 

On Sunday, Canada’s Minister of Public Services and Procurement said Canada’s ability to get PPE out of China has improved significantly in recent weeks. Anita Anand said planes loaded with supplies landed in Canada every day last week. Still, she noted that the global market for medical equipment has become extremely competitive. 

Anand also said that simply signing contacts for masks and other equipment doesn’t mean they will be here overnight. 

Canada has ordered more than 52 million face shields, hundreds of millions of masks and more than one billion pairs of gloves, although only a small fraction of those supplies have been received.

In B.C., the nurses’ union is calling on health employers to better protect front-line workers from shortages that could put them in serious danger.

The B.C. Ministry of Health has not responded for a CTV News request for comment on the nurses’ complaints.