TORONTO -- Brad D'Oliveria was a fit 26-year-old with no serious health problems besides mild asthma until he was diagnosed with COVID pneumonia last week.

One of his doctors, Dr. Stephen Lapinsky, director to the intensive care unit at the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, told CTV News that D'Oliveria came to the hospital with the typical symptoms but quickly progressed.

“I believe it was just the usual shortness of breath, cough and wheezing, and then (he) came to the intensive care unit,” he told CTV News.

Diagnosed with COVID pneumonia, D’Olivera was put on a ventilator last Friday to help him breathe. 

By Tuesday, he was doing well enough that doctors decided to remove him from the breathing machine, but the procedure can be risky and involves removing a tube from the patient’s throat. 

“When that breathing tube comes out, patients often cough with it,” said Matthew Ko, a respiratory therapist at Mount Sinai Hospital.

“The cough is associated with a lot of aerosol generation -- you’re causing a lot of droplets come into the air with the cough. For your COVID-positive patients, when they cough you are putting virus into the air.” 

To protect himself and the other health-care workers from being exposed to the virus after such an operation, Ko turned to an unusual tool: a clear plastic bag.

Ko grabbed the bag from the hospital’s supplies and filled it with helium and oxygen to keep it floating above the patient. His idea was that once the ventilator tube was removed, the patient would then cough into the bag, rather than into the air where healthcare workers would potentially be exposed.

“In order to see if this would work, we did try it,” Ko said. “So, I did try it on myself just to feel what it would be like, and it wasn't actually that bad.”

D'Oliveria was in a regular ICU room, not a negative pressure one, which helps keep aerosol away from medical staff.

“So the advantage of doing this is that it's cost effective,” Ko said.  “I don't know what those plastic bags are, but I don't imagine they're very expensive.”

The manoeuvre worked. Video from inside the ICU shows healthcare staff placing the bag around the patient.

“[When] we pulled the tube out with a bag around him he gave a big couple of coughs, which were contained in the bag,” said Lapinsky.

D'Oliveria allowed the medical staff to post the video online as a way of showing other medical personnel the cheap and effective method for protecting staff.

“It's been a big hit,” Lapinsky said. “I think it's had over 150,000 impressions since we posted it.”

Lapinsky added that there are some challenges to this process. For instance, it takes more time and requires an additional staff member to pull it off.

“We think we can streamline it and it definitely does add an element of safety to the whole procedure,” he said.

D'Oliveria remains in hospital, where he posts regular updates on his Instagram page. Doctors hope he will make a full recovery.