WINNIPEG -- The Manitoba government announced on Saturday it’s looking for local businesses to help produce Manitoba-designed masks in order to increase the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health care workers.

“Our government’s number-one priority is the protection of our most vital service – our health-care system – by ensuring our health-care workers have the protection they need when caring for Manitobans,” said Health Minister Cameron Friesen in a news release.

The team of medical experts at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre, who developed the new, reusable, N95-type mask, were led by plastic surgeon Dr. Christian Petropolis.

The province noted the masks are as effective as other, commercially-made N95 masks; have a silicone base; and use an N95 or higher-grade filter.

“The mask has a similar design to that of industrial masks. It is a respirator made of moulded silicone and 3D printed components, and it accepts many available filters as well as a custom-designed reusable filter housing for an N95 or higher disk filter,” said Petropolis.

“The advantage of this design is its simplicity and flexibility. The small disk filter uses considerably less N95 material, the main component which has led to a worldwide mask shortage.”

The Manitoba government is looking for submissions from local manufacturers who can develop an accelerated process to scale the manufacture of the masks and start production immediately. It said it will sign purchase orders totalling up to $15 million to pre-order the masks, noting a portion of these funds can be available in advance to help with start-up costs.

“Manitoba is home to an incredible talent bank of innovative thinkers and producers within our manufacturing sector, and I know they will be ready and wanting to step up and help make this happen,” said Friesen. “With government, medical experts and business working together, we can beat this thing. I know that together we will continue to find ways to ensure our frontline workers have the protection they need to respond to this public health pandemic.”

More information on rules and specifications can be found online.