The lingering issue of personal protective equipment shortages during the coronavirus pandemic could soon get much worse, warned the leader of a prominent nursing union.
Deborah Burger, the president of National Nurses United, told the Associated Press that many medical facilities have not fully restocked their personal protective equipment since facing shortages earlier this year at the onset of the health crisis. She said the new spikes in COVID-19 cases in states such as Arizona and Texas could threaten to drain the already depleted supply of N95 masks, gloves, and face shields.
“We’re five months into this, and there are still shortages of gowns, hair covers, shoe covers, masks, N95 masks,” Berger said. “They’re being doled out, and we’re still being told to reuse them.”
Berger said that a survey taken by members of her union found that many nurses have concerns about accessing personal protective equipment. She also said that many hospitals are still requiring staff members to reuse some equipment that is intended to be single-use.
Aisha Terry, an associate professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University, acknowledged that supplies of protective equipment have improved since the dire situation in March but said that hospitals and protective equipment manufacturers cannot allow supplies to dip as the coronavirus sweeps through southern states.
“I think overall, production, distribution, and access has improved,” Terry said. “But the fear is that we will become complacent.”
Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, who is coordinating the equipment supply chain for the White House coronavirus task force, told Congress during testimony last week that more than a quarter of states in the country have less than a 30-day supply of protective gear. Illinois Rep. Bill Foster, a Democrat, said the United States will be facing a “real crisis” in 30 days if the supply chain does not keep up with the surge of new COVID-19 cases.
Shortages of protective equipment and ventilators were a top strategic concern for the U.S. at the beginning of the pandemic. The latest wave of coronavirus cases is not only placing a strain on the supply of protective gear, but it is also contributing to hospitals being overrun. On Sunday, Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin, Texas, said his city could run out of ICU beds within the next two weeks.
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