TORONTO -- Defective masks being recalled by the City of Toronto were sent to at least three long-term care homes, including one dealing with a deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

The city said on Tuesday it is recalling hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of surgical masks after reports of “ripping and tearing” in the product.

“The City of Toronto discovered yesterday that a recently-purchased order of more than $200,000 worth of surgical masks do not meet the specifications the city requires for such masks and took immediate action, recalling these masks,” the city said in a news release.

The order of 4,000 boxes containing 50 masks per box was received on March 28, of which 62,500 masks (or 1,252 boxes) were distributed to the city’s long-term care homes.

“After reports of ripping and tearing, further inspection of the masks determined that the masks ordered did not meet the city’s standard and specifications,” the city said, adding that Toronto’s occupational health safety staff has been contacted

“The city is investigating to determine how many employees in the city’s long-term care homes were caring for a patient while wearing these masks, and if there was possible exposure to COVID-19.”

A spokesperson for the city confirmed that the masks were sent to Seven Oaks long-term care home, Kipling Acres long-term care home and Lakeshore Lodge long-term care home. Eight patients who resided at Seven Oaks long-term care home died of the virus, officials confirmed last week.

There have been 15 deaths in long-term care homes in Toronto. 

The city says that the masks that were manufactured in China are being returned and that the vendor has committed to a full refund.

"We know the issue of fraudulent and poor quality personal protective equipment is an issue around the world," Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg told reporters at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. "We have been fortunate, if you will, [that] to my knowledge this is the only shipment of personal protective equipment for which we’ve had concerns to date."

In the meantime, the city says it is retrieving its stockpile of masks as a “stop-gap measure” until new masks can be ordered. Pegg said that the poor-quality masks represented about 50 per cent of the city's surgical mask inventory.

"With the loss of the masks, we are estimating right now with the demand levels we've seen at the start of the week, [that] about a two to three week supply [is] remaining."

The city said that the loss of this inventory makes for a "significant shortfall" of surgical masks for the city and that the Ontario government has been contacted to help expedite a new order.

The city says that as a result of the recall, it is undertaking a quality control review of its supply chain.

“All future orders of personal protective equipment will be subject to heightened verification to ensure the products it receives meet the specifications ordered."

Pegg said it's upsetting that the city has to take the additional checks. 

"It's actually sad that we have to take those additional steps, but, unfortunately with the global supply chain being what it is, we just have no choice but to go through the additional work and to add the additional steps to undertake additional physical inspections and to undertake additional verifications that under normal circumstances would not be required," he said.

"We are doing that on the basis of taking every precaution reasonable and everything available to us to ensure our supply of personal protective equipment is of high quality and that was implemented as of last night and will continue."